The party may not be over, but let's come up with an excuse to duck out. Wanda Jackson, whose career as an icon of her genre is now at least three times as long as her original heyday, returns this week with a new set of tunes and a high-profile collaborator. But this party's crowded and loud and kinda uncomfortable.
Jack White, he of the White Stripes, first worked with one of his classic country heroines in 2004, when he produced Loretta Lynn's "Van Lear Rose." At best, that album was a solid-oak monument to an Americana artist justifying her reverence ("Portland, Oregon" remains an awesome accomplishment in bridging the sounds of two generations); at the very least, she wasn't singing Beck covers for Rick Rubin, a la Johnny Cash. White's results with Ms. Jackson, however, aren't nearly as sturdy.
Jackson, an Oklahoma native, is slavish to the textbook definition of Midwestern rockabilly. White's attempts to stretch the boundaries here with cartoonish horns (some of the arrangements, like "Busted," bounce around like Carl Stalling scores for Bugs Bunny) and various otherworldly effects (lots of eerie echo, like the music is broadcasting from a 1950s border-blaster station) don't draw Jackson out of her shell, they just make what's going on inside noisier and less distinct. Add to that Jackson's strange tenor, which at 73 has gotten pretty dry, and the reckless revelry of songs like "Rip It Up" sounds like the goofing of a pre-teen. When she slows down, she's more hit ("Rum and Coca-Cola," despite the chatty organ) than miss (a cover Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good" grates), but she doesn't slow down much.