On Wanda Jackson’s 2011 comeback album, The Party Ain’t Over, producer Jack White pushed the 74-year-old rockabilly legend in a number of directions (soul, funk, calypso) with impressive results. On the follow-up, Unfinished Business, producer Justin Townes Earle and Jackson get back to the singer’s rockabilly roots for an album that lacks the depth of her previous release but works well as a whole.
Earle, a combative and hard-touring folkie whose 2012 album Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now was inspired by classic Memphis soul, is an unexpected but savvy choice for a producer. He leaves his mark most notably on “Am I Even A Memory,” an obscure cut from the cult honky-tonk singer-songwriter Greg Garing, and “What Do You Do When You’re Lonesome,” which Earle wrote and recorded for his 2008 album, The Good Life. Earle duets with Jackson on the former, letting his smoky, effortless tenor ring out on the song’s classic country feel.
The album’s first track, “Tore Down,” originally recorded by Texas bluesman Freddie King, brings the same uptempo party vibe found on The Party Ain’t Over. Jackson has again chosen excellent material: Townes Van Zandt’s gospel-inflected “Two Hands” and the hard country honky-tonk of “The Graveyard Shift,” from Steve Earle’s bluegrass album, The Mountain, are two standouts. The album closes with Jackson’s version of “California Stars,” from Wilco and Billy Bragg’s 1998 Woody Guthrie project, Mermaid Avenue. The production is airy with electric piano and weepy steel, but Jackson dances around the melody in a staccato style. Her rendition lacks feeling, and she seems lost in the song. Luckily, a chorus of backing singers enters halfway through and cuts Jackson out. Even when Jackson runs out of juice, a new generation is there to have her back.