Asleep at the Wheel

Asleep at the Wheel

The Best of Asleep at the Wheel

MCA

The title of MCA’s latest in its series of “Millennium Collection” CDs, The Best of Asleep at the Wheel, is a bit misleading. Sure, the budget-line collection contains some damn fine examples of the Western swing revival band’s spin on the House That Bob (Wills, that is) Built, as well as some nifty nuggets of the genre like “Cotton-Eyed Joe.” Still, though enjoyable, it isn’t the best of AATW. There’s no “Take Me Back To Tulsa,” no “The Letter That Johnny Walker Read,” no “Hot Rod Lincoln,” or, for cryin’ out loud, no “House of Blue Lights” or “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” arguably two of the band’s biggest hits. You want the true best of AATW, pick up either of the live albums (Live & Kickin’ or the recent slab, simply titled Live) or snag one of a couple actual greatest hits comps floating around. Better yet, track down the recent Koch Records re-release two-for of Texas Gold and Comin’ Right at Ya. That’s the best Ray Benson and his boys have to offer, bubba.

Now, all that being said, this installment of the “Millennium Collection” is still pretty damn neat. While not a true greatest hits, it is a compilation from two of The Wheel’s deleted albums, the self-titled debut and 1980’s Framed. Although painfully short — just 12 tracks, seven from the former and five from Framed — this particular “best of” is a damn fine cross-section of the premier band of the late ’70s Western Swing revival.

Again, there’s the stand-bys, the songs AATW made its name with, like the traditional “Cotton-Eyed Joe” featuring Texas fiddle god Johnny Gimble, and a swingin’ rendition of “Switchin’ in the Kitchen.” Primarily dance music, Western Swing has always blended country corn with jazz groove, and The Wheel has always been a band that’s stirred the feet of even the dourest of cowpokes. The band’s take on Fred Rose (Hank Williams’ mentor and producer, by the by) “Deep Water” has a nifty groove to it and “Across the Alley From the Alamo” has a nifty bounce to it. AATW has always been a band that depended more on covers rather than originals, and apart from a trio of tunes from frontman Ray Benson — “Lonely Avenue Revisited,” “Cool as a Breeze,” and the lovely “Liar’s Moon” with vocals from rhythm guitarist Chris O’Connell — that rules remains in effect. The band puts a somewhat Tex-Mex swing into John Hiatt’s ruthless classic “This is the Way We Make a Broken Heart,” later a hit for Rosanne Cash, and join up with Willie BY GOD Nelson on the Red Headed Stranger’s “Write Your Own Song,” a humorously vicious put-down towards heavy-handed record executives.

All in all, despite the oddly disco-esque take on the closer “Midnight In Memphis,” Asleep at the Wheel’s induction into the “Millennium Collection” is a fun, if somewhat unfulfilling listen. Frankly, there’s not enough here for a true hardcore fan of either the band or a disciple of Western Swing apart from the novelty of the long out-of-print songs. On top of that, for a newbie, the song selection is simply too obscure for the newbie to get a solid introduction into one of country music’s most entertaining bands. Still, it’s not a bad addition; it just could’ve been so much better.

MCA Nashville, 60 Music Square East, Nashville, TN 37203

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