ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL, COLLISION COURSE, CONSIDERED (1978): Sage and silly songs from sagebrush territories

 |   |  2 min read

ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL, COLLISION COURSE, CONSIDERED (1978): Sage and silly songs from sagebrush territories

Ray Benson seems an unlikely character to have created the soulful Western Swing outfit Asleep at the Wheel, a band which took its lead from the sound of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys as well as sweet Southern soul.

Singer-guitarist Philadelphia-raised Benson – now in his late 60s-- is Jewish and founded Asleep at the Wheel half a century ago in West Virginia with pedal steel guitarist Reuben Gosfield (aka Lucky Oceans).

By the time they moved to Austin, Texas – their natural home – they'd opened for Alice Cooper which seems as about as much a mis-matched for their sophisticated country swing as you can imagine.

It was Willie Nelson who suggested the move to Austin, and after that the band – with a regular parade of members – never looked back: nine Grammys, almost two dozen albums and shows which sometimes saw Benson (the sole constant) literally pulling from his bag of tricks for entertaining magic interludes.

They've never enjoyed much success by way of chart hits or best-selling albums, but they have had critical acclaim in the least expected places.

Their excellent Collision Course album of '78 had praise heaped on it by Max Bell in NME at the time of New Wave, punk and Devo.

The headline read Out Go Androids in Overalls In Come Men in Silly Hats.

81o1nwPXG0L._SS500_Bell said Collision Course was “their most precisely crafted set to date” (which implies he'd heard at least some of their previous half dozen albums), that “variety and coherence go hand in hand” on the album and that “The Wheel encourage a grin bigger than the Lone Star state”.

Melody Maker at the same time said “if you haven't got the message that Asleep at the Wheel are a magnificent band then this album shouts it good and loud”.

It is indeed an exceptional album which opens with the lazy back porch languor of Pipe Dreams (pedal steel, horns, fiddle) and ends 40 minutes later with guitarist Leroy Preston's Ghost Dancer about a young contemporary Apache on the res finding meaning in his ancestry and the ancient spirit dance of defiance.

Between times there is slippery swing with pedal steel (Song of the Wanderer), the hypnotic Cajun sound of Nathan Abshire's Pine Grove Blues with accordion, Count Basie's One O'Clock Jump which fits in seamlessly with clarinet and pedal steel, then a turn towards the South in a fine treatment of Randy Newman's Louisiana 1927 with Benson's strong oak-cured vocal, Benson's dreamy, gorgeously romantic original Texas You and Me and singer Chris O'Connell stepping out for the classic New Orleans ballad Ruler of My Heart (written by Allen Toussaint and made famous by Irma Thomas).

And to bring home the many interlocking references there's Don't Forget the Trains and Louis Jordan's jump jive/country swing of Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens before Ghost Dance.

This is a join-the-dots of Southern music to create a picture of something between country, western and soul.

As Max Bell noted, “whoever called the shots on the choice of material and the track order deserves a crate of Coors for organisational competence”.

When thinking about Asleep at the Wheel to consider I pulled out one of the four I have on record at random.

It was this, by good fortune my favourite Wheel album.

Give it time and it could be yours too.

.

You can hear Collision Course at Spotify here.

.

Elsewhere occasionally revisits albums -- classics sometimes, but more often oddities or overlooked albums by major artists -- and you can find a number of them starting here

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   The Album Considered articles index

PAUL McCARTNEY: PIPES OF PEACE, CONSIDERED (1983): Must try harder, lacks effort in class

PAUL McCARTNEY: PIPES OF PEACE, CONSIDERED (1983): Must try harder, lacks effort in class

By the mid Eighties, albums by Paul McCartney were becoming surplus to requirements. It wasn't just that people by that time had about all the McCartney in their life that they needed, but that... > Read more

THE BETA BAND, THE 3 EPs, CONSIDERED (1998): The four amigos from Glasgow

THE BETA BAND, THE 3 EPs, CONSIDERED (1998): The four amigos from Glasgow

By the time Scotland's Beta Band got to their self-titled debut album in '99, many writers and fans felt they had already done their best work. It has been on three separate EPs –... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

Joe Bonamassa and band; Auckland Town Hall, September 12 2014

Joe Bonamassa and band; Auckland Town Hall, September 12 2014

When Tina Turner was filling stadia in the late Eighties I had the misfortune of seeing her twice in quick succession. But let's be clear, Turner was exceptional and although she delivered the... > Read more

EPs by Shani.O

EPs by Shani.O

With so many CDs commanding and demanding attention Elsewhere will run this occasional column by the informed and opinionated Shani.O. She will scoop up some of those many EP releases, in... > Read more