Asleep at the Wheel: Collision Course (Capital)

STRANGE TO relate but not everything that emerges in the new release racks this week will bear the mark of androids in overalls. And disco and punk don’t mean a crock of shit in the deep, deep South.

Now and again a corporate body of like-minded individuals gather their resources in the largest state, sequester themselves from the rest of the union and deliver the mail. Asleep At The Wheel roll into town on time every time. Collision Course though is not just on offer as this year’s wagon, it is actually their most precisely crafted set to date.

The Wheel doesn’t spin through too many changes in content or line-up so it is important to realise that Collision Course not only marks a gaggle of unoriginal numbers performed with the touch of their gone-but-not-forgotten creators, it also heralds the arrival of the twelfth spoke, ex-Cody fiddle and sax virtuoso, Andy Stein.

The combination of Stein with already entrenched Santa Fe trail bearers Pat Ryan and Link Davis gives them an added wham. Although they can now call on up to twenty four instrumental outlets they maintain a solid, uncluttered ethnic wit, barrel loads of it in fact. Whoever called the shots on the choice of material and the track order deserves a crate of Coors for organisational competence. From ‘Pipe Dreams’ through to Leroy Preston’s spooked ‘Ghost Dancer’ the band turn in an unassailable groove.

A much acclaimed mini-European tour last year confirmed A.A.T.W.’s consummate charm and musicianship on the boards and this set doubles the mouth-watering impact by dint of a reliable taste and quality too often overlooked in the unfashionable breed of Southern artistry. All ten songs here are genuinely fine. They include perfect interpretations of Nathan Abshire’s classic ‘Pine Top Blues’, replete with Link Davis’s Cajun accordion, also Bayou duetting between frontman cum fallguy Ray Benson and rhythm guitarist, singer Chris O’Connell, who has a coarse vocal style which beats Linda Ronstadt nicely on the head.

Lucky Oceans and Pat Ryan steal the honours on Basie’s ‘One O’Clock Jump’ with their playing respectively pedal steel and clarinet, while The Wheel’s version of Randy Newman’s ‘Louisiana’ matches the original in all departments.

Variety and coherence go hand in hand with this lovable dozen. O’Connell is mistressful on Toussaint’s ‘Ruler Of My Heart’, a woman’s song sung right by a woman. Somehow the continuity is held over to the customary Wheel revolution number ‘Don’t Forget The Trains’ and raised in spirit and humour on Joan Whitney’s ‘Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens’ (immortalised by Louis Jordan).

If you like Ry Cooder’s Jazz or if you’re looking for something different you can investigate this with pleasure. As down-home hip as Austin, The Wheel encourage a grin bigger than the Lone Star state.

© Max BellNew Musical Express, 12 August 1978

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