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Wanda Jackson - Unfinished Business LP
Sugar Hill Records
On 2011's The Party Ain't Over, Jack White took it upon himself to remind the world of the greatness of Wanda Jackson, the first lady of rockabilly, by creating a great and gaudy musical spectacle in which the headlining artist often got lost in the shuffle of her own album. A year later, Jackson headed back into the studio, this time with Justin Townes Earle behind the controls, and the title Unfinished Business faintly suggests this album was meant as a corrective to the folly of her collaboration with White. It certainly suits Jackson and her gifts better than The Party Ain't Over; Earle has set Jackson up with a solid studio band (usually just guitar, bass, keys, drums, and sometimes pedal steel) and for the most part, they kept out of her way, giving her just enough space to show she still has the goods. Jackson's instrument is weaker than it was in her prime -- no great surprise from a woman nearly 75 years old -- but her phrasing is still on target, and she's got spunk and attitude to spare; when she tells off a two-timing suitor on "Pushover," the scenario not only sounds plausible, but you sure don't want to be in that guy's shoes. Unfinished Business nods to the totality of Jackson's career, so while old-school rock & roll dominates the set, she also shows off her estimable skills singing vintage country (particularly on "What Do You Do When You're Lonesome," written by Earle, and "Am I Even a Memory," in which he delivers a fine duet vocal) and gospel (a fervent take on Townes Van Zandt's "Two Hands"). And Jackson shows her mettle on two surprising selections -- she sounds tough and sassy on Bobby Womack's classic "It's All Over Now," and delivers a warm, graceful interpretation of the Jeff Tweedy/Woody Guthrie collaboration "California Stars." Wanda Jackson's best records were simple at heart -- give the gal a good song and a good band, and she can do the rest. Unfinished Business shows that six decades after her first recordings, that strategy still works, and she can still deliver the goods without a lot of needless fuss.