Music review: Toes tap to classy western swing of Asleep at the Wheel

Asleep at the Wheel played their smooth and classy western swing at the Egg’s Hart Theater Friday ni

Asleep at the Wheel played their smooth and classy western swing at the Egg’s Hart Theater Friday night.

Ray Benson, who founded the group 41 years ago, sang, played and entertained as well as he ever has, backed by a younger but experienced group.

Western swing, at least their version, is a Texas-grounded sound that crosses often into old jazz standards, jazz swing, and light country music with positive, g-rated lyrics. While the lyrics can offer some Texas-boasting, the music is humble.

He played early “Miles and Miles of Texas,” then moved to “Don’t Fence Me In,” into a boogie-woogie of “Kicks on Route 66.” Regardless of pace, the energy stayed steady and smooth, somewhere between knee-slapping and foot tappin’.

Eddie Rivers’ solo on steel guitar always raised eyebrows, as did the fiddling of Jason Roberts. Benson probably took the best solos, tossing us some blues, Django Reinhardt jazz, and country.

They played an upbeat “It’s a Good Day,” title track from their latest release, each member taking a quick round of jazzy, unflashy solos.

Then came the first mention of Bob Wills, with the Waylon Jennings tune, “Bob Wills Is Still the King.”

Elizabeth McQueen sang a beautiful song about being an old cowgirl that moved more like an old jazz standard than a country tune. She sang mostly backup all night, and it would have been nice to hear her a little more alone, but that would mean less of Benson. Can’t have it all.

Benson talked a bit about Western-swing founder Bob Wills. He played his tune “Roly Poly,” which started with a jazz piano solo from Walton and grew into a big-band feel that swelled on its own without a horn section.

He played “Hesitation Blues” from his “Willie and the Wheel” album, which he did a few years ago with Willie Nelson.

Benson followed with a story about the play he wrote and performs in Texas about Bob Wills. They sang a song from that play, “Sittin on Top O the World,” which he also recorded on the Willie Nelson album. Benson and McQueen sang the duet, trading verses, trading banter, and singing against each other, her blues coming through more than her country, a nice complement to Benson’s mellow western approach.

During “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens,”guitarist Rivers blew a raspy and harmless sax solo for the fun of it. Benson went off on the value of chickens — “man’s best friend, breakfast, lunch and dinner” — playing around with the Egg venue name.

He followed with the prettiest song of the night, “What a Wonderful World,” Benson and McQueen trading verses and then joining on harmonies for the chorus. Benson took a gentle guitar solo, as did Roberts on fiddle. It was all beautifully done.

For an encore they played a lush, drowsy version of “Happy Trails,” relaxing further the vibe of the room, before hustling into a smooth boogie woogie of “The Texas Playboys Radio Hour.”

At most their music was great fun, and at least their music was smooth and enjoyable. For those northeasterners who generally don’t like all things from Texas, Asleep at the Wheel is something you can embrace without any effort.

Categories: Entertainment, News

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