It’s fair to say that Wanda Jackson is a legend of the music world. Titled the Queen of Rockabilly after she catapulted to success with a slew of hit singles in the 1950s, she’s also recognised as one of the first female country stars. Over her six decades in the industry, she’s recorded 32 albums – most recently 2012’s Unfinished Business – and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009. After announcing her retirement from touring in 2019, she’s now released her final record, Encore.
The eight-track collection opens with ‘Big Baby’, a stomping, twangy number that shows off the trademark raspy edge to Jackson’s voice along with rattling piano, kiss-off lyrics and a wicked guitar solo. There’s a real sense of swagger about her delivery and I love the blend of sweetness and depth in her vocals, as well as a touch of drawl. It’s a great way to kick things off and gives a great sense of what Jackson and this record are all about.
Throughout the project Jackson also performs alongside a number of other female rock and country musicians. ‘Two Shots’, featuring Elle King and Joan Jett – the latter of whom also co-produced the album – is a lively, driving song with punchy guitar and a note of warning in Jackson’s delivery, as well as a very direct switch of tone in the bridge! The air of menace isn’t too overdone and her vocals blend brilliantly with Jett and King’s, creating some really strong harmonies throughout the rollicking tune. Elsewhere, the 60s doo-wop-influenced ‘Good Girl Down’ sees Jackson team up with Angaleena Presley and Candi Carpenter to deliver a funky, bouncy tune with a message of independence. The three of them really bring out the song’s themes of self-worth and female empowerment as the protagonist gets back on her feet after dating some less-than-desirable men, and it has a great sense of fieryness and feistiness about the whole thing.
One other thing which struck me about the album was the range of musical styles Jackson explores. ‘You Drive Me Wild’ fuses bluesy, fuzzy guitars with honky-tonk piano and pulsing drums, whilst Jackson herself draws out the notes of the sassy, sultry track. Meanwhile, there’s classic country on the downbeat ‘It Keeps Right On A Hurtin”, with Jackson delivering a breathy, more subdued vocal over the delicate piano melody. Her switch into these softer tones really shows her versatility and why she’s been able to easily move between genres for so long in her career.
My personal highlight of the record is ‘We Gotta Stop’. It’s a slower, more laidback groove than the other songs on the album, with a great atmosphere and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Jackson describes herself and her lover as ‘birds in a cage’ as she sings about her loss of herself in a relationship, in contrast to her earlier songs. You can feel the rawness of her emotion and honesty as she sings about her uncertainty of whether to stay or go, and it all adds up to an incredibly powerful moment.
The album closes with two more songs featuring Joan Jett, ‘Treat Me Like A Lady’ and ‘That’s What Love Is’. The former brings in elements of old-school gospel with its organ-led intro and Jackson’s delivery oozes self-confidence as she brings the song’s central character to life, before switching it up in the chorus to show her softer side. Her life experience really comes through in her singing and there’s a great sense of connection between the two sides of her personality shown on the record. ‘That’s What Love Is’, on the other hand, has a relaxing, dreamlike feel and is packed full of warmth and little romantic details. Jackson and Jett have great harmonies throughout and the song has a beautiful sense of safety and belonging – exactly what a good relationship is all about. Overall it’s a positive, uplifting note to end the record on with a great sense of hope and optimism.
Overall ‘Encore’ proves a fitting send-off for Wanda Jackson, showing her excellent vocal range and ability to turn her hand to a variety of styles, as well as her equal skill in delivering slower, yearning romantic numbers as she is sending out a message of strength and defiance against no-good men. Her inclusion of female rock and country acts feels like a real passing of the torch moment and, although it’s short, this collection provides a great jumping-off point for delving into her extensive back catalogue. It feels very much like going out on her own terms, and will no doubt find her plenty of new fans too.
Track listing: 1. Big Baby 2. Two Shots (featuring Elle King and Joan Jett) 3. You Drive Me Wild 4. Good Girl Down (featuring Angaleena Presley and Candi Carpenter) 5. It Keeps Right On A Hurtin’ 6. We Gotta Stop 7. Treat Me Like A Lady (featuring Joan Jett) 8. That’s What Love Is (featuring Joan Jett) Record label: Big Machine/Blackheart Release date: 20th August 2021