Wanda Jackson deserved a far better party than Encore for her send-off.
Recorded in 2019, before she announced her official retirement, Encore will most likely be the legendary Wanda Jackson’s final studio album. For her swan song, Jackson enlisted a catalog of collaborators who, on paper, read like the obvious heirs to her genre-spanning legacy: Joan Jett, Elle King, and Angaleena Presley are among the artists who figure prominently on the project. Jett co-produced the album with her frequent partner Kenny Laguna, and she’s featured on three of the album’s eight tracks, so the temptation is to place much of the blame for the album’s limitations at her feet. Whether it’s a function of Jackson’s diminished vocal ability — she disclosed post hoc that she’d suffered from a stroke in 2018 — or a purposeful aesthetic choice, Encore’s mixing is atrocious, slathering Jackson’s performances in obvious compression or layering her beneath harmony vocals that are placed far too forward in the track. Simply put, the album sounds awful, and that’s a real disservice to Jackson and everyone else involved.
The material itself, however, is exactly the kind of spirited, shitkicking rockabilly, country, and blues hybrid that Jackson perfected, and all of the varied collaborators are game. “Two Shots,” with Jett and King, should have been a gimmie of a single, a bit of wink-and-nudge posturing in the vein of hits like “Gunpowder & Lead” and “Before He Cheats.” But the production trudges along, and Jackson sounds like she recorded her vocal in the same cave where Little Big Town recorded their last two albums, and so the track ends up utterly lifeless. “Good Girl Down,” a fantastic song that Jackson co-wrote with Presley and former American Idol standout Vanessa Olivarez and which appeared on Presley’s album Wrangled, plays out as a dirge, despite the spirited backing vocals by Presley and Candi Carpenter. There’s truly nothing on Encore that highlights how vital Jackson remained into the later years of her recorded output and, even more unforgivably, nothing that highlights any of the strengths that have made her one of the most important women in country music and rock and roll history. Jackson deserved a far better party than Encore for her send-off.
Published as part of Album Roundup — August 2021.