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Album Review: Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys by Asleep at the Wheel
Very Good, Based on 4 Critics
AllMusic - 80 Based on rating 8/10
Technically, it's been 16 years since Asleep at the Wheel last saluted Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys -- with 1999's Ride with Bob, recorded for the short-lived DreamWorks Records -- but it's never like Ray Benson's ensemble ever strayed far from Western Swing. Their first album in 1973 was chock-full of Wills standards and their last, 2010's It's a Good Day, showcased former Texas Playboy Leon Rausch, so Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys is squarely in the group's comfort zone. Fortunately, Asleep at the Wheel never sound too comfortable on this generous 22-track tribute.
Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel have long been principal torchbearers for western swing, that odd amalgam of country and gypsy jazz that swept through the ballrooms of 1940s south-west America. This tribute to bandleader Bob Wills assembles an impressive array of vocal talent to deliver standards such as Faded Love and Trouble in Mind, among them Lyle Lovett, Amos Lee and Pokey LaFarge. By turns wistful (Willie Nelson on Navajo Trail) and comedic (The Devil Makes Three with Bubbles in My Beer), the album’s real star is the group’s purring blend of fiddle, clarinet, pedal steel and more.
Asleep at the Wheel Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys (Bismeaux) This being the third time Asleep at the Wheel celebrates the King of Western Swing on disc, no one could accuse Ray Benson and friends of running out of ideas. There's an attention to detail paid to everything, right down to the packaging – an exacting, miniature depiction of Wills' favorite cigar box – that signals their obsession as nothing short of enduring affection. There's a special guest for nearly every one of its 22 tracks, such stalwarts as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Lyle Lovett, and George Strait offsetting relative newcomers Kat Edmonson, Old Crow Medicine Show, the Avett Brothers, Elizabeth Cook, and others.
Kelly Clarkson has thrived as a nice girl with a big voice and a grudge. Her career-defining hits have been good-riddance songs like “Since U Been Gone” and “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” the messy reconciliation of “My Life Would Suck Without You,” and confessions of trauma and struggle like “Because of You.” The versatile voice that made Ms. Clarkson the first winner of “American Idol,” can sail through just about any arrangement: rock, ballad, arena-country and, most often at the moment, anthems pumped with dance beats.