When: Mon., Dec. 31, 10 p.m. 2012
Wanda Jackson, rock ’n’ roll’s original bad girl, spent decades in repentant-gospel land during the 70s and 80s, but she continues her full-bore return to the devil’s music with her second high-profile album in as many years, Unfinished Business (Sugar Hill). As much as I enjoyed last year’s The Party Ain’t Over (Nonesuch), it framed Jackson a bit like a cartoon character: producer Jack White piled on arch, Vegas-grade arrangements, the cover art was self-consciously retro, and somebody talked her into covering Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” (which she nailed anyway). For the new one, Justin Townes Earle steps in as producer, and his aesthetic is more sympathetic to Jackson’s strengths and roots. (Speaking of her roots, last month Omnivore released a ten-inch called Capitol Rarities that compiles six alternate and unissued takes from Jackson’s pure honky-tonk period, from ’56 to ’62.) Unfinished Business includes charged versions of classics associated with Etta James (“Pushover”), the Rolling Stones (“It’s All Over Now”), and Freddie King (“Tore Down”), plus a credible spin through “California Stars,” a product of Wilco’s collaboration with Billy Bragg on the Woody Guthrie project. But some of the best performances are on lesser-known tunes: she brings a swinging rockabilly twang to Steve Earle’s “The Graveyard Shift” and a Kitty Wells-style lilt to “What Do You Do When You’re Lonesome.” My favorite track is her gorgeous duet with the younger Earle on Greg Garing’s “Am I Even a Memory?,” which shows that Jackson can modulate her biting growl into something tender and vulnerable. Still, considering this is a New Year’s Eve show, I suspect she’ll play the hellcat with gusto. —Peter Margasak JD WIlkes & the Dirt Daubers and Burlesque le Moustache open; The Soul Summit DJs spin.