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Asleep at the Wheel play vintage music built to last

The Coach House , San Juan Capistrano, Cal., May 22, 2003

By Dan MacIntosh

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, CA - The lanky and good-humored Ray Benson remarked, "I used to introduce this song as an old Bob Wills song" just before Asleep At The Wheel went into playing "Take Me Back To Tulsa." "But then all Bob Wills songs are old," he joked.

Benson could have described every song played tonight in this exact same way. But an even better description of Asleep At The Wheel's regular repertoire is vintage, since the music they play is time-tested, built-to-last and ever-pleasing.

When the group dug into "El Paso," which is taken from Ray Benson's just released solo album, "Beyond Time," it was just about as close as this concert ever got to anything 'new.' It may be a track from a recently recorded album, but this Marty Robbins cowboy classic is already many, many decades old. That didn't matter much to this adoring audience, however, as it whooped and hollered - just as if Benson and the boys were playing it for the very first time.

This approximately hour-and-a-half concert featured the expected Western swing tunes, such as "Choo Choo Boogie" and "Cherokee Maiden," that are always a part of Asleep At The Wheel concerts.

But this evening's unexpected pleasures came from a few of the slower and jazzier standards that Benson pulled out of his hat. These included Cindy Walker's "You Don't Know Me" and a tip of the hat to Louis Armstrong with "Kiss to Build a Dream On."

It's always fun to watch Asleep At The Wheel open for such mainstream acts as George Strait and Alan Jackson. But such abbreviated appearances do not leave nearly enough room to show off the full spectrum of this talented outfit. By the time the group made its way to "Tennessee Waltz," one couldn't help but breathe a sight of relief that Asleep At The Wheel was all alone at the top of this bill.

It's easy to take a group like Asleep At The Wheel for granted. But coming so closely on the heels of all the glitz and glamour associated with the ACM awards and country music's current glut of musical fluff, this show felt like a cool, refreshing oasis in an otherwise grim desert.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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