On The Party Ain’t Over, Jack White turns his authenticity fetish on Wanda Jackson, one of the greatest and most influential women of the rock era. Since recent albums like 2006’s I Remember Elvis have helped her retain her status as the undisputed queen of rockabilly, The Party Ain’t Over doesn’t serve as a full-fledged comeback album and often lacks a clear sense of purpose. Ultimately, it’s more of a showcase for White’s production than for Jackson’s performances.
That isn’t to say that Jackson isn’t still in fine voice. Tracks like “Shakin’ All Over” and “Nervous Breakdown” give Jackson the chance to prove that, now in her mid 70s, she can still belt and growl as well as anyone, and she sounds like she’s having a blast on “Rip It Up” and “Rum and Coca-Cola.” It’s impossible to overstate what a lasting influence Jackson’s forceful, unapologetic sense of phrasing has had on rock music, and the moments that really work best here are those that allow Jackson to stand front and center.
A fantastic cover of “Thunder on the Mountain” from Bob Dylan’s Modern Times is the best showcase for Jackson’s boundless spirit, as she and White turn the slow-burning blues dirge into a breakneck rockabilly jam. But not all of the choices of cover tunes work so well. However great a song it might be on its own merits, Harlan Howard’s “Busted” simply doesn’t fit with the album’s overall party vibe, and Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” plays as a deliberate novelty.
The greater problem with the record, though, is that White’s flashy production POV pulls focus from Jackson. Considering that his instincts in working with Loretta Lynn on the landmark Van Lear Rose were spot-on, it’s surprising that White displays such a heavy hand with the arrangements here. The echo effect added to the chorus of “Shakin’ All Over” undermines the heft of Jackson’s performance, while the horn sections he adds to “Like a Baby” and “Teach Me Tonight” are superfluous. One of White’s strengths has always been his ability to separate pastiche from a genuine aesthetic, and The Party Ain’t Over is suffocated by its overly stylized, affected ‘50s put-on.