Wanda Jackson


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Encore Review

by Mark Deming

One of the greatest singers in the history of rock & roll, country, and rockabilly, Wanda Jackson literally has nothing left to prove to anyone. Her place in history is understood and assured, and at the age of 83 she doesn't have to do much of anything she doesn't want to. However, while Jackson retired from live performing in 2019, she still hasn't shaken the songwriting bug, and after penning a few fresh tunes, she decided to record them for posterity, hence 2021's Encore, an eight-song effort that demonstrates she still has some fire left in her. Jackson's late-period work has seen her collaborating with celebrities in the production chair -- Jack White on 2011's The Party Ain't Over and Justin Townes Earle on 2012's Unfinished Business -- and for Encore, she teamed with another iconic (albeit very different) female rocker, Joan Jett, who handled the sessions in tandem with her longtime studio collaborator Kenny Laguna. If Jackson and Jett sound like an odd match on the surface, it's immediately clear that Jett has the utmost respect for the artist at the microphone, and she's not afraid to put the right touch of growling guitar menace in the arrangements without taking the spotlight away from the star of the show. Sounding tough is second nature to Jett, and if Jackson is by her nature a bit sweeter, her vocals are still very much the work of a woman you don't want on your bad side. "Big Baby," "Good Girl Down," and "Treat Me Like a Lady" are missives from a woman who never surrendered in the battle of the sexes, and if her voice is more fragile than it was in the 1950s and '60s, it still commands attention and her phrasing is savvy. Unlike some of Jackson's collaborators, Jett doesn't shy away from Jackson's gift for singing country weepers -- the bluesy force of "We Gotta Stop" allows her to communicate sadness without weakness, and "That's What Love Is" is a powerfully honest assessment of the good and not-so-good sides of a long-term relationship. (Jackson and her husband Wendell Goodman were married for 56 years before his passing in 2017, and the ache of his absence is audible in her voice.) Clocking in at a very 1950s 25 minutes, Encore doesn't feel like a major event and it doesn't add a great deal to the Wanda Jackson story, but it's a welcome reminder that the first truly great female rocker is still among us and hasn't surrendered to time, changing tastes, or the music business. Encore confirms that Wanda Jackson is still Wanda Jackson, and that's no small feat.

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