Asleep at the Wheel/ Rani Arbo October 28
“Asleep at the Wheel” Wakes Up Cerritos
by Glen Creason
If laughter and grinning does increase the health potential of folks then the Performing Arts Center faithful attending the “Asleep at the Wheel” concert over the weekend should be in the pink. The big show was a like a boogie-woogie flu shot for all as Good Old Boy Ray Benson and his charges chased away the blues and even made a heart flutter once or twice in their Texas sized show. “Asleep at the Wheel” has been at it for a while and the three decades of stage experiences showed in the eclectic offerings from pop gems of the early 50’s to Fats Waller to a heaping helping of Bob Wills’ Texas swing. The old band has been brightened by young songstress Elizabeth McQueen who provided eye-candy and a feminine force to the driving sound of this rock-solid octet.
Certainly, Asleep’s fans filled their seats with enthusiastic support and they were rewarded with the lone star state sendups of great Western swing songs, particularly from the Bob Wills biography-musical they produce called “A Ride With Bob.” Adding to the polish of these beauties is the fine fiddling and singing of Jason Roberts who plays Wills in the show. His work on great ones like “Liza Jane,” “Cherokee Maiden,” “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” and the glorious “San Antonio Rose” provided pillars of rhythm in this strong show. Of course, Benson is the rock on which “Asleep at the Wheel” is built and his easy charm and gruff vocals soaked the standards in a sort of Texas soul. “Miles and Miles of Texas,” “Hot Rod Lincoln, “House of Blue Lights” and “One of These Days” were terrific. Strangely enough however, the best of Benson was in a perfectly lovely tribute to Cindy Walker’s “You Don’t Know Me” and a deeply moving Guy Clark masterpiece “the Cape.” Cute Elizabeth provided a counterpoint to the rugged Ray and her “Faded Love,” “I’m an Old Gal-hand” and even “Mele Kalikimaka” demonstrated a sweet Texas soprano. Obviously “Asleep at the Wheel” does not rest on it’s laurels and the playing was sharp and polished, especially Benson’s expressive electric guitar, Robert’s fiddle, Eddy River’s mercurial pedal steel and piano playing dynamo John Whitby’s driving style on the 88’s. Unlike some local football teams on this day, they came to play.
The show was opened by Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, a seriously talented quartet with impeccable taste and roots deep in traditional music. The group is centered around Ms. Arbo and her versatile fiddle and strong voice but its’ uniqueness stems from the unusual drumming of Scott Kessel on his “drumship enterprise” comprised of cardboard box, tin cans, Velcro and a suitcase. That’s not to say the bass and humor of Andrew Kinsey and the fine guitar and singing of Anand Nayak are not essential in the Mayhem sound. Nayak kept it together despite a broken/lost guitar string proceeding professionally with dobro instead. The music on this night ranged from traditional to inspirational drawn from amazingly disparate sources. The show commenced with a two hundred year old piece from the mostly unknown Bessie Jones from the Georgia Sea Islands “Turtle Dove” and followed later with the chilling but seasonally appropriate “Oh Death.” “Big Black Bird” was gut-bucket blues and “Oil in My Vessel” was straight up traditional mountain music. These old gems were mixed in with fresh treatments of a wonderful Leonard Cohen song “Heart With No Companion,” an electrified Irish fiddle tune “Red-headed Boy” and the spice of some swinging Lefty Frizzel “I Do My Crying at Night.” The best of the fine show came in several uplifting songs “Let It Go,”“Shine On” and “I Want to Be Ready” which were refreshingly optimistic. Without flash or empty posturing Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem just put together a quality concert containing first-class musicianship and content.