Asleep at the Wheel

April 11, 2019
7:30 PM

Asleep at the Wheel has seen miles and miles of Texas, and they got their kicks on Route 66. Now in their 48th year, the band continues to introduce the western swing genre to a new generation. “It’s been an amazing ride. From Paw Paw to the Bay Area to Austin, we’ve seen it all,” says Wheel front man Ray Benson. “But, rest assured, there are still so many exciting projects in the works. The Wheel keeps rolling!”

Over their history, Asleep at The Wheel has earned ten GRAMMY Awards and released more than 25 studio and live albums, and there is no sign of slowing down any time soon. The band’s release, Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, garnered the 2016 GRAMMY Award for Best Recording Package. The critically acclaimed album, named one of Rolling Stone’s 40 Best Country Albums of 2015, is the latest in Asleep at the Wheel’s long-standing tradition of “keeping Western Swing alive for 45 years” (Wall Street Journal). Featuring 22 acclaimed collaborations, the all-star line up included legends such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and George Strait and newcomers like The Avett Brothers, Amos Lee, Old Crow Medicine Show and many other fine talents.

New Routes, the brand-new album by Asleep At the Wheel, marks both a new path forward and a nod to the freewheeling roots of one of Texas’ most beloved bands. After a decade of collaborating on record with friends, including Willie Nelson on 2009’s Willie and the Wheel, and paying ongoing tribute to the groundbreaking music of Western Swing pioneer Bob Wills, the Wheel is marking 2018 with their first album of new material in a decade.

With a fresh lineup, a bracing blend of original songs and vibrant cover material and some unanticipated new musical tangents, Asleep At the Wheel demonstrates convincingly it’s more relevant, enjoyable and musically nimble than any time in its 45-year history.

“It took me 60 years, but I’m doing what I’m meant to do—singing and playing and writing better than I ever have. A bandleader is just someone who gathers people around them to play the best music they can play. The idea is to feature everyone in the band,” founder Ray Benson says.

That driving principle comes into distinct focus on New Routes. “It’s a nice addition (to the Wheel’s catalog) because it explores music we haven’t explored before and it highlights the people who are in the band right now,” said drummer David Sanger who, with 32 years under his belt, is the longest-running band member next to Benson.

“Part of the new music is part of the Wheel’s repertoire” of country, jazz, jump blues, rockabilly, Western Swing and folk, said bassist Josh Hoag, “but part of it is going in new directions. Coming from the tradition but taking it forward. It’s a different direction for the Wheel, but I think people will connect to it.

“This was a chance to re-invent the Wheel,” said Benson. “These are creative folks who can add stuff. I’m just the bandleader, so if I don’t have contributions from everybody, then the Wheel doesn’t roll.”

New Routes, he said, “is a pure distillation of where the band is right now,” Benson declared. With the twin fiddles of Shore and Ludiker in place and steel player Eddie Rivers being able to double up on saxophone with bandmate Jay Reynolds, the eight band members “sound like twelve onstage,” said Benson.

“It gives me the palette that I’ve always wanted,” he added. “You gotta be able to play Bob Wills, you gotta be able to play R&B, Louis Jordan, the swing stuff, Count Basie stuff. And we also want to play real country music. So, I think we pulled it off on this album. It’s a band album.”