Album Reviews

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

Artist:     Asleep at the Wheel

Album:     Still the King

Label:     Bismeaux

Release Date:     03/03/2015

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Still the King is Alseep at the Wheel’s third and latest tribute album dedicated to the music of the legendary, late Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. Every track features one of a range of Americana musicians, including Pokey LaFarge, Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, Old Crow Medicine Show and The Devil Makes Three, among others.

“I reached out to every great singer we knew. I just kept asking folks who I felt would fit in. I was looking for the roots of American music,” said Asleep at the Wheel frontman Ray Benson.

Still the King began production when Benson’s son and co-producer Sam Seifert pointed out that over 15 years had passed since Asleep at the Wheel’s last tribute to the music of Bob Wills, enough time for interest to renew and fresh talent to emerge. What followed was a two-year quest to track down the right songs and the collaborators to play them.

“Our ‘no’ list was pretty awesome,” Seifert laughed when asked about the process of contacting musicians for Still the King. “That being said, we really got the majority of who we wanted. We would kind of get artists in batches, it was very laborious…We were working all throughout and to the end.”

The process may have been laborious at times, but the finished product displays a fine balance between the nostalgic and the new; artists in their twenties play alongside those who have been onstage for decades. Benson saw the album as an opportunity to include some younger musicians and to bring Wills’ work to new generations. The result is an album that should please both western swing neophytes and lifelong listeners. Asleep at the Wheel has drawn from a diverse pool of talent in their commemoration of the “king of western swing,” and there’s not a disappointing track out of the 22 compositions included.

Asleep at the Wheel, Bob Wills, Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills, Texas Playboys, western swing. country western music. Sam Seifert, Ray Benson
Asleep at the Wheel, Photo by Wyatt McSpadden

 

The album opens with “Texas Playboy Theme,” featuring original Texas Playboy member Leon Rausch. Saxophonist Billy Briggs, now over 90, also makes an appearance during “Twin Guitar Special.” The first half of Still the King showcases the voices of Lyle Lovett and Amos Lee before moving into Old Crow Medicine Show’s rapid fiddling in their rendition of “Tiger Rag.” Elizabeth Cook’s hazy vocals on “I Had Someone Else Before I Had You,” and “My Window Faces the South” with Brad Paisley also stand out for their toe-tapping enthusiasm.

Besides fulfilling its role as a tribute to his music, Still the King recognizes Bob Wills’ importance in country-western history. “It’s not meant to be commercial music,” commented Seifert on the background of the songs selected for the album. “It’s Texas music; it grew from Texas. It was made for the dances.” As Wills’ performances grew in popularity, he and the Texas Playboys began to drive from dance hall to dance hall, becoming some of the first American musicians to use a tour bus, and early adopters of electric instruments.

Despite the passage of eight decades since many of the songs were written, they still sound fresh and should find a willing audience in 2015. When asked about the future of western swing, Ray Benson was hopeful. It celebrates a genre that he believes “is always going to be part of the tapestry of American music.” He added, “That’s the great thing about Bob Wills … His music has appeal to people of every generation.”

Sam Seifert echoed these sentiments and concluded that his ambition for Still the King is mainly just that listeners enjoy it. He said, “Really, for me, I want people to have a feeling of joy and happiness that makes them tap their feet and draws awareness to Bob Wills and his music.”

– Leah Dearborn

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