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Wanda Jackson throws a party

Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., October 7, 2010

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Taxing the crowd by keeping them waiting more than two hours thanks to an eight-hour bus ride from New York City, the queen of rockabilly, Wanda Jackson, quickly got on stage once her bus arrived and asked, "You believe in the saying 'better late than never?'" With that out of the way, she tore into her 50-year-old song, Mean Mean Man with a lot of smarts for how it ought to be done.

The Oklahoma native kept the energy ultra-high with Rock Your Baby, Hard Headed Woman and Where's My Wedding Ring, slowing it down a tad.

The only problem with Jackson's 75-minute show was her voice. She started off real strong and fluid with lots of growls and attitude, but after about half a dozen songs or so, it gave way and tended to sound somewhat old at times.

Jackson owned up to having some vocal issues and did something she claimed she never has done - down alcohol apparently on stage, saying that was about the only thing that might help. Jackson tended to right herself for most of the remainder of the show. Although it would have been far better to hear Jackson perform at her optimal state, Jackson overcame her vocal issues.

While a good chunk of the show dwelt on past hits from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member's long, durable career, Jackson also plugged two new songs. She recorded a covers album with Jack White (he seems to have done the same trick with Loretta Lynn about six years ago) in Nashville earlier this year for release in 2011.

Jackson played two songs, which will be the A and B side singles (Jackson referenced the fact that artists actually did used to release singles as two different songs) from the CD. She covered Amy Winehouse's You Know That You're No Good and Johnny Kidd and The Pirates' Shakin' All Over. Both sounded strong with the former different for her stylistically.

Jackson, who is on the diminutive side, easily interacted with the crowd. She told stories about some of the songs (for example, her big hit Fujiyama Mama was shunned by radio in the U.S., but greeted with wild enthusiasm in Japan where she maintained a fan base for decades) and Elvis whom she dated as a teenager and still holds in very high regard. Maybe Jackson uses the same lines every night (although some of the comments weren't), but it all sounded fresh and informative.

The Lustre Kings, a New York State-based band, ably backed Jackson with pedal steel guitarist Kevin Maul sounding like he was playing a lead electric guitar time and again.

After being away from the Boston area for three years, this night proved to be a treat for the packed crowd. Jackson may not have been at her absolute best, but it was still a thrill to see a honest-to-goodness legend still able to deliver high quality music. Jackson closed the regular set with Let's Have a Party and on this night, she made it one.