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Wayne Hancock

Wild, Free & Reckless – 1999 (Ark 21)

Reviewed by Stuart Munro

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CDs by Wayne Hancock

This is another spectacular collection of Wayne Hancock's self-styled "juke joint swing," his blend of honky tonk, jumpin' jazz, rockabilly and swing. It hews pretty close to the path forged by Hancock's previous efforts, both in topical concerns and the sound he wraps around them.

Hancock is joined by his usual collaborators, but he also adds some strong new elements to the mix. The phenomenal Jeremy Wakefield takes over steel duties, while wunderkind T Jarrod Bonta adds a new dimension to the Hancock sound on piano (as does Erik Hokkanen's fiddle on three tracks). Bonta's gin joint ivories only serve to accentuate the echoes of Hank Williams on tracks such as "Tonight the Rain is Coming Down" and the title track. Hancock also augments guitarists Paul Skelton and Dave Biller with Sean Mencher (of the now-defunct High Noon) and veteran Austin musician/producer Jim Stringer. With their four varied styles along for the ride, sometimes on the same track, you might think that things would get a little crowded, but with Hancock directing traffic, they all hang together nicely without getting in each other's way.

One could try to point out highlights here - maybe the don't-rock-it-if-you-can-swing-it Perkins-tribute "Blue Suede Shoes," a torrid "It's Saturday Night" that's pushed along equally by Stafford's cut-loose trombone and Wakefield's wailing steel, the hillbilly chug-a-lug of "Flat Top Boogie" and "Gone Gone Gone," the strolling "You Don't Have to Cry" that wraps things up. But that of necessity would be more than a bit arbitrary; this album is so consistently strong, it's hard to pick favorites.