Pop Music Review : Asleep at the Wheel Takes Western Swing for a Spin

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"This is what Western swing is all about," Asleep at the Wheel leader Ray Benson said Monday night at the Crazy Horse as the band tore into the infectious instrumental "Red Wing."

Actually, the entire 18-song, 90-minute set was what Western swing is all about--even though the material ranged from Bob Wills classics to a Tony Bennett ballad ("I Wanna Be Around") and a rock 'n' roll car song ("Hot Rod Lincoln").

Like Wills, who pioneered Western swing back in the '30s as country music's answer to the Big Bands, Benson made sure each selection was subjected to plenty of hot, jazz-flavored musicianship and distinctive humor.

He called on various members of the seven-piece band for solos, most notably fiddle player Barbara Lamb (a recent addition to the group), steel guitarist Cindy Cashdollar and sax player Mike Francis (especially impressive during "Corine Corina"). Benson himself let loose with his share of tasty lead guitar and introduced each number with a funny little story or comment.

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Selections included "Beat Me Daddy (Eight to the Bar)" and "House of Blue Lights" (both of which featured Tim Alexander's pumping piano), "Choo Choo Ch Boogie," "Boot Scootin' Boogie," "Miles and Miles of Texas" and "Dance With Who Brung You."

Currently the only lead singer in the band (which has featured something like 75 members, including Orange County's own Jann Browne, during its 24-year career), Benson delivered each song in his characteristically easygoing baritone, though he did become positively (and appropriately) manic during "Hot Rod Lincoln."

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