Wanda Jackson, ‘Encore': Album Review
One listen to Wanda Jackson's 1956 Top 15 country hit "I Gotta Know" tells you everything you need to know about the rockabilly queen who taught Elvis Presley a thing or two during their brief time together as a couple: sweet one second, totally badass the next.
Over the next decade or so she had a number of minor pop singles (never cracking the Top 25) that still rank among the best female-fronted rock 'n' roll songs ever recorded. But her influence is way greater than her chart history lets on. Jackson is a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee as an Early Influence, and has been heralded by artists as diverse as the Cramps, Jack White and the other Elvis (Costello) over the years.
Her previous album, 2012's nostalgia-leaning Unfinished Business, was produced by Justin Townes Earle and included covers by Etta James, Townes Van Zandt and Bobby Womack. Her 32nd LP, Encore, will most likely be the 83-year-old Jackson's final recording, and she couldn't have asked for a more fitting collaborator for her last time out: Joan Jett, a spiritual descendant of Jackson's brand of take-no-prisoners rock 'n' roll.
And she sounds remarkably well-preserved after eight decades, as she soars over a set of well-chosen covers and originals that ranges from fiery put-downs ("Big Baby") and swinging country standards ("It Keeps on a Hurtin'") to post-midnight ballads ("We Gotta Stop"). At times, Encore turns into a crowded ladies-night out, with Jett, Elle King and Angaleena Presley all joining the party. But make no mistake: Jackson is front and center at all times, and Jett and longtime collaborator Kenny Laguna never overstep as producers.
Still, Jackson is at her best when she doesn't act her age: "High heels, high hair, cherry-red lips, low-cut dress hugging my hips," she sings on the tempo-shifting "Treat Me Like a Lady." "I know what you're thinking, I can read your mind, but with a woman like me you better take your time." A badass till the end.