Asleep At The Wheel performs "A Ride With Bob",The Bob Wills Musical.

The Squirrel Nut Zippers? Dixie Chicks? Manhattan Transfer? The range of those taking a Ride With Bob shows just how significantly the landscape of swing has changed -- not only since the heyday of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys a half-century ago, but even since the '93 release of Asleep At The Wheel's previous Wills collection. With two such tributes in a six-year span, the Wheel's Ray Benson might be accused of running a marketing strategy into the ground. Yet if the earlier (and more prosaically titled) A Tribute To Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys anticipated the swing revival, Ride With Bob is better timed to capitalize on the music's fashionability, and to ensure a place for Wills amid the retro-hipster pantheon. By extending the guest roster beyond country's usual suspects, producer Benson plainly aims to find a common dance floor for zoot-suiters and honky-tonkers alike. What's largely missing from the good-timey nostalgia of the sessions is a sense of what a forward-looking musical visionary Wills was. It's the distinction between creating and re-creating: Where the reckless abandon of Bloodshot's Pine Valley Cosmonauts tribute to Wills last year found the likes of Jon Langford, Alejandro Escovedo and Robbie Fulks celebrating Wills as a timeless iconoclast, too much of Ride With Bob plays like a period piece. Here, the artist most successful in putting her personal stamp on Wills' music is Reba (now billed as a single-named diva), who tears into "Right Or Wrong" with a bluesy conviction that makes the familiar fresh. Among other highlights, Shawn Colvin and Lyle Lovett offer a pairing of refined gentility on "Faded Love", while Clint Black's version of "Bob Wills Is Still The King" exchanges the trademark lope of Waylon Jennings for a toe-tapping arrangement more like one of Wills'. Most surprisingly successful of all is the closing "Going Away Party", which finds Willie Nelson in "Stardust" mode, with Manhattan Transfer providing a blanket of background harmony. As for the rest of the 18 tracks, Tim McGraw sounds overmatched by "Milk Cow Blues", "New San Antonio Rose" reduces Dwight Yoakam to mannered anachronism, and Merle Haggard is barely recognizable in the higher register he adopts for "St. Louis Blues". Though the musicianship throughout is sprightly -- with the Wheel augmented by piano alumnus Floyd Domino and virtuoso Playboy fiddler Johnny Gimble -- too often the album seems to be embalming a tradition rather than renewing it.

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