KINDA FONDA WANDA
The septuagenarian Queen of Rockabilly (and onetime girlfriend of Elvis Presley) has demonstrated that she's still got it with the release of her new full-length, The Party Ain't Over, out Jan. 25 on Jack White's Third Man Records. Wanda Jackson wasn't even out of high school when country singer Hank Thompson invited her to record with his band, the Brazos Valley Boys. She ended up recording several songs with them before graduating, including "You Can't Have My Love," which became a nationwide hit in 1954.
At 18, Jackson was touring the country with Elvis, and after signing with big-time L.A. label Capitol, she bounced back and forth easily between country and rockabilly with hits such as "I Gotta Know" (1956) and "Let's Have a Party" and "Fujiyama Mama" (both 1958, the latter a major success in Japan). The influence of Jackson on rockabilly (and rock & roll in general) can't really be overstated, especially given the extent to which rock music in the '50s was a boy's club. Sure, Jackson wore high heels and fringe when she performed, but the performance itself was just as raw and raging as that of her male peers, pioneering new attitudes for women — white women, in particular — in pop music. While ladies at the time did sing and perform country music, they were often steered into the sadder, sappier country ballads. Influenced — and encouraged — by Elvis, Wanda Jackson would really roar into crazy rockabilly country songs. She played her own guitar, she wrote her own music, and she painted caricatures of the male voices that dominated the hits of the day, cutting down male egos and daring to acknowledge the existence of female sexual urges. Aficionados of country might find themselves more moved by "I Gotta Know," "Right or Wrong" and "In the Middle of a Heartache," but the best collection for those who are not already devoted fans is the expanded version of Rockin' With Wanda (Capitol), which includes her signature song, "Fujiyama Mama," sultry tunes like "Funnel of Love" and key singles "Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad" and "Let's Have a Party."
[Wanda Jackson (and quite possibly Jack White) will perform on Jan. 23 at El Rey.]
Before Frank Zappa got a little obvious about the targets of his satire (e.g., Catholic girls, Valley girls, girls in general, pee, the government, etc.) he was a superb, hilarious collage artist and doo-wop fiend. In the '90s, fans of Zappa's Freak Out!, Absolutely Free and Cruising With Ruben & the Jets rejoiced with the emergence of Ween (coming to L.A. next week); now that secret legion of clever weirdos (Matt Groening and Gary Panter, we're looking at you) should hail the release of a little gem by Texas duo Fergus & Geronimo called "unlearn" (out Jan. 18 on Hardly Art). It's kinda uncanny how "Wanna Know What I Would Do If I Was You" sounds like a 1968 vintage Mothers studio outtake, and the Zappatista effect is enhanced by note-perfect askew pseudo-oldies "Powerful Lovin' " and "Unlearn." "Doo-wop is protest music," proclaim the handwritten liner notes.) Jason Kelly and Andew Savage hide behind the Fergus and Geronimo masks, and they are also (surprise, surprise) big Sparks fans. "We both have a natural inclination for being odd," says Savage/Fergus. We'd like to issue a full endorsement of their oddity.
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LEAN ON BILL
Don Cornelius recently licensed a DVD set of classic Soul Train performances, and among many stellar performances (and a few odd moments of musicians showing up unprofessionally messed up), one particular moment shone through: an unassuming man with clear, bluesy phrasing strumming an acoustic guitar and delivering his secular hymns without showiness but with everything else that makes for goosebump-inducing soul music. That was Bill Withers and that, as the title of the new documentary about his life released Jan. 25 on DVD and video-on-demand, is Still Bill. Everyone knows "Ain't No Sunshine," "Lean on Me" and "Just the Two of Us," not to mention the sublime "Use Me"; this movie reveals the undersung craftsman who conceived them, a real treasure of contemporary black music and one of the great American songwriters and, yes, performers.
LA JEUNESSE SONIQUE
Sonic Youth has provided the score for the French film Simon Werner a Disparu (aka Lights Out). The film, set in the outskirts of Paris in 1992, is directed by Fabrice Gobert, and the accompanying soundtrack will be available as a digital download on Jan. 25 by Midheaven (an LP will be available March 1). The band is no stranger to the art of filmmaking: They gave a 21-year-old Spike Jonze one of his first gigs directing scenes for their 1992 video for "100%." This is not the first time SY have provided the music for a film, either: They are credited with some of the music to 1999's Source, a documentary about the Beat generation; they also contributed several original compositions to Allison Anders' 2001 drama Things Behind the Sun and to Olivier Assayas' 2002 technothriller Demonlover. The new music they did for Simon Werner a Disparu is quintessentially Sonic Youth: Slightly fuzzed-out guitar tones soar in languid melodies above midtempo drums, while chords are strummed absentmindedly in the middle. This wash of sound accompanies a film whose trailer promises visuals of attractive white youths gazing thoughtfully into the distance in landscapes filled with muted colors and women in short skirts. Ah, the French.