There’s a nice moment when Johnny Cash and Ray Charles are getting ready to tear into Harlan Howard’s “Busted” on The Johnny Cash Show, and the Man in Black leans in and remarks, “You and I are trying to say about the same thing, but we just say it a little different.” Forty years later, the song has resurfaced on Wanda Jackson’s The Party Ain’t Over, and while producer Jack White wasn’t even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye when Cash and Charles shared a stage, their genre-defying attitudes echo throughout the album.
The 73-year-old Queen of Rockabilly can still belt it out with the best of ‘em, so it’d be easy for White to limit the project to things that made sense. She’s right in her wheelhouse on “Like A Baby” (made famous by her ex-boyfriend Elvis Presley), and she sneers her way through Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over” and Eddie Cochran’s “Nervous Breakdown” as if she were decades younger. However, White isn’t content to let Jackson rest on her laurels.
There are quite a few interesting choices on The Party Ain’t Over, and she delivers on their potential: A cover of Bob Dylan’s Modern Times track “Thunder on the Mountain” — with Dylan’s bizarre Alicia Keys shout-out scrapped in favor of a nod to Jerry Lee Lewis — shines, and Jackson’s take on Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” leads us to believe that, were there not five decades and an ocean between them, she and the young Brit could have raised a lot of hell together.
Even the ideas that are just plain weird (throwing some ska sounds into The Andrews Sisters’ kitschy “Rum and Coca Cola,” adding a funk groove to the traditional gospel song “Dust on the Bible”) manage to not sound terrible. Most artists her age would be content to release a greatest-hits compilation and wait for the checks to roll in, but Jackson’s willing to let White guide her through new territory. After all, they’re trying to say the same thing. They just say it a little different.