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Bob Wills in indeed still the king, and Asleep at the Wheel and friends prove it on this perfect tribute album.

Music Review: Asleep at the Wheel – ‘Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys’

“A-ha!” “Well all right!” “Here come those boys with the fiddles!”

Bob Wills - Courtesy of Paul Perry
Bob Wills – Courtesy of Paul Perry

Bob Wills was a consummate entertainer, and with his incomparable Texas Playboys, he was arguably the one person who popularized western swing. No other group has ever captured the exuberance and joy of his music more than Asleep at the Wheel. They are the perfect group to celebrate Wills’ music, and here they have joined with a bunch of celebrity friends to create the perfect tribute.

The list of musicians represented here is truly stunning: Lyle Lovett, Pokey LaFarge, George Strait, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and more, all backed up by Ray Benson and the amazing Asleep at the Wheel members.

This is feel-good, swinging music, and for those who aren’t familiar with it or didn’t realize it originated with Wills, the versatility will amaze and delight you. Out of 22 songs, not one disappoints or falls short.

Appropriately, the project opens with “Intro – The Texas Playboy Theme,” featuring original Playboy Leon Rausch. Amos Lee offers a great take on “I Hear You Talkin’,” and Lovett is ideal as vocalist on “Trouble in Mind.” Old Crow Medicine Show offers some incredibly fiery fiddling on “Tiger Rag.” Elizabeth Cook adds plenty of sass to “I Had Someone Else Before I Had You,” and Brad Paisley will have your feet moving with “My Window Faces the South.”

LaFarge tears the place apart on “What’s the Matter with the Mill,” while Nelson/The Quebe Sisters and Strait celebrate the western part of western swing with “Navajo Trail” and “South of the Border (Down Mexico Way),” respectively. Carrie Rodriguez and Emily Gimble provide jazzy blues on “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” and Benson and Robert Earl Keen will have you laughing with their effervescent “Bubbles in My Beer.” Ninety-year-old Billy Briggs, who was an original Playboy, plays saxophone on “Twin Guitar Special” with Tommy Emmanuel and Brent Mason.

This is everything a celebration of Bob Wills should be, and I advise keeping it handy to play whenever you need a pick-me-up or some extra energy. Your feet will be tapping, and you’ll be singing along in no time!

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, Southern Crossroads: Georgia Bluesand Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.

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