Asleep at the Wheel: New Routes
Asleep at the Wheel has released more than 30 albums since their 1970 formation and—says co-founder and still-leader Ray Benson in his liner notes to this latest release—gone through more than 100 musicians. In those notes, Benson outlines a new direction for the band (hence the album title), stating that the band has “once again reinvented itself with a whole new look and sound.” That might scare off some longtime fans who’ve stuck with the Texas-born AATW for its Western Swing-rooted sound, but it shouldn’t: Although there are indeed some tunes that might have felt out of place at one time, it’s not like they’ve suddenly taken up electronic music or married hip-hop interludes to pedal-steel breaks. While some of these songs, particularly one like the Guy Clark-penned ballad “Dublin Blues,” are a long way from Bob Wills, they’re true to the original spirit of the group. The “new” sneaks up on you: “Jack I’m Mellow,” the snappy opening track, featuring (as do several selections) a lead vocal by Katie Shore, is an old-time paean from the ‘30s to the joys of the weed—it would have been equally at home on the Wheel’s Comin’ Right at Ya back in ‘73. But even the closing number, “Willie Got There First,” featuring The Avett Brothers and written by Seth Avett, doesn’t feel out of place here. Nor do the more rockabilly-oriented bouncers like “Seven Nights to Rock” or Johnny Cash’s “Big River.” New Routes isn’t so much the reinvention Benson claims as a fine-tuning.