Asleep at the Wheel

Western swing—packing a potent mix of big band jazz and country—reigned in the 1930s and '40s with the likes of Bob Wills, Milton Brown and his Brownies, the Light Crust Dough Boys, and Cliff Bruner commanding the bandstands. Asleep at the Wheel, led by the redoubtable Ray Benson, picked up the western swing mantle in 1970 and over the following four decades have done such a fabulous job carrying the torch that they've earned a slew of Grammy Awards and a well-deserved niche among the legends of the past. Willie Nelson, who's still working on his own legend, grew up with western swing. Some 30 years ago, producer Jerry Wexler suggested he do an album of WS classics. Nelson and Benson finally got around to it this year, and the resulting Willie & the Wheel is an instant classic. With Willie's magnificently weathered voice leading the way and AATW swinging like a polecat in a cyclone, iconic tunes like "Hesitation Blues" and "Corrine Corrina" twitch and jump with vitality while a rollicking horn section adds a sparkling measure of New Orleans traditional jazz. Willie won't be along on this gig (a joint tour will begin later this winter), but AATW will be their rambunctious selves, Benson leading a particularly fine version of the Wheel these days featuring singer Elizabeth McQueen, fiddler Jason Roberts, and pedal steel player Eddie Rivers.(Photo by Bengt Nyman)
Wed., Oct. 28, 7:30 p.m., 2009

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