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Wanda Jackson

Unfinished Business – 2012 (Sugar Hill)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Wanda Jackson

During her heyday in the '50s, Wanda Jackson was frequently identified as "the sweet girl with the nasty voice." The rockabilly chanteuse more than lived up to the tag by maintaining a spotless image (even as she dated Elvis Presley) while peeling off raucous rumpshakers like Let's Have a Party and Fujiyama Mama.

Although casual listeners eventually thought Jackson had retired or died, true fans knew she had shifted her focus to European markets where she remained a big star while simultaneously devoting more energy to gospel recordings. In 2003, Jackson finally released "Heart Trouble," her first new domestic album in two decades with guests Elvis Costello and The Cramps. That well received album got the ball rolling toward the next phase in Jackson's comeback, 2011's scorching "The Party Ain't Over," produced by Jack White and accompanied by Patrick Keeler and Jack Lawrence (The Greenhornes/The Raconteurs).

For her latest studio foray, "Unfinished Business," Justin Townes Earle assumes the production role and tempers Jackson's more raucous tendencies in favor of her more subtle blues and gospel gifts. Not that she doesn't kick up some dust; I'm Tore Down and Old Weakness find Jackson giving her throaty rasp a workout although it's clear that she's dialing back from her usual Category 5 rockabilly roar.

Jackson goes pure country on weepers like Am I Even a Memory and What Do You Do When You're Lonesome while swinging her blues chops around on The Graveyard Shift and drifting back to '60s sock hop pop on the anachronistic Pushover. Jackson's delivery hitches a bit on the Woody Guthrie-via-Billy-Bragg-and-Wilco folk hymnal of California Stars, but it's a minor bump as "Unfinished Business" predominantly shows that Jackson may well be hitting a comfortable stride as she nears her 75th year.