Asleep at the Wheel – Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys (Rating 4 out of 5)

asleepFirst let’s take care of the elephant in the room.  Yes, you will have to be Country music fan to enjoy this record, but at the end of the day, aren’t we all.

Far from being their first foray into covering the music of the undisputed king of Western Swing, in 1999’s Ride with Bob an entire album was devoted to Bob Wills and his Western Swing, and Ray Benson and the boys two-step through much of the Playboy’s library with selected cuts peppering the 30 plus career albums released so far, Still the King is certainty the most diverse, and might be the best.

The devil is in the details, and there are a lot of them to savor here. While some of the monster quickly recognizable tunes like “Stay a Little Longer”  and “New San Antonio Rose” are not on this collection, the depending on taste better, and certainly deeper cuts are delicately covered here with “Twin Guitar Special” and “Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas” as standouts.

The partners in crime selected here to partner on each song run the gamut from fellow Wills groupies Willie Nelson, George Strait, Lyle Lovett, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson, with Straits rendering of “South of the Border (Down Mexico Way)” worth the price of admission alone, to younger guns Jamey Johnson and Elizabeth Cook with every act stepping up to the microphone pretty much killing their performance. The most famous song on the set “Faded Love” is appropriately covered with assistance from The Time Jumpers, a loose collective of Nashville singers and studio musicians that features Vince Gill.

If someone holds a lap steel to your head and demands that you pick a couple of favorites you couldn’t go wrong throwing out “Bob Wills is still the King” presented honestly by Shooter Jennings side by side Texas Honky Tonk road dogs Randy Rogers & Reckless Kelly, or “Time Changes Everything” featuring Buddy Miller. The duet with Kat Edmondson and Ray Benson is also very cool bordering on stellar.

Since most of the songs stick pretty much to the original charts, you the listener are treated to an aural experience not available outside of seeing the band live back when these records were released. The production value is first-rate, the musicianship is impeccable, and when a labor of love is truly presented with love the result can be magic, and this album certainly is both.