Wanda Jackson

The Party Ain't Over

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Self-styled keeper of the flame Jack White is so steeped in roots nostalgia -- he even left his native Detroit for the greener pastures of Nashville, bringing himself closer to the heart of Americana -- that his art rock roots are obscured. After all, this is a guy who purposely restricts his palettes in the White Stripes and named an early album De Stijl after an early 20th century Dutch movement; art and artifice are part of his roots. He brings that artifice to The Party Ain’t Over, a stylized high-profile comeback for Wanda Jackson that is about as far removed from the natural flow of Van Lear Rose, his similar effort for Loretta Lynn, as can be. White seemed to act as midwife to the music on Van Lear Rose, but here he seems to stamp his imprint directly upon Wanda, the legendary rockabilly singer who briefly dated Elvis Presley and cut the incendiary “Fujiyama Mama” and “Let’s Have a Party.” Clearly, the title of this 2011 effort hearkens back to the latter, and White goes out of his way to evoke the '50s of Jackson’s heyday, selecting such rock & roll classics as “Nervous Breakdown,” “Busted,” and “Rip It Up,” but also having her sing the Andrews Sisters' swinging classic “Drinking Rum and Coca Cola” while recasting the modern classics of Bob Dylan's “Thunder on the Mountain” and Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” as retro throwbacks. No matter the source material, the approach is the same: it’s a '50s pastiche, equal parts rockabilly boogie and jump blues blare, accentuated by Jack’s gonzo skronk and Jackson’s sandpaper growl. Conceptually, it’s interesting -- it’s not a re-creation, it’s a purposeful fantasy -- but the sheer ballast of White’s vision can be exhausting, the individual elements clanking chaotically and never quite gelling. Jackson gives as strong as a performance as she can, tearing into the oldies with ease and valiantly attempting the new songs, but she sounds most at ease with the quieter moments, whether it’s “Dust on the Bible” or a stripped-down acoustic “Blue Yodel #6.” These are the moments that feel like they belong to her, with the rest of The Party Ain’t Over being unmistakably of and for Jack White, who leaps at the chance to re-create the ‘50s in his own image.

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