Asleep at the Wheel did not start the Western swing revival of the '70s -- Merle Haggard kicked it into gear with his tremendous 1970 album A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World -- butAsleep stuck to it so long that the band came to personify it. Though they occasionally stretched out, they never really strayed from the sound they unveiled on their 1973 debut, Comin' Right at Ya. The 12-song platter kicks off with a faithful but loose version of Bob Wills' "Take Me Back to Tulsa," setting the tone for not just the record, but the group's music. Asleep at the Wheel's members were disciples ofWills and the Texas Playboys, and they not only patterned their sound after them, but followed the Playboys' restless spirit in how they used Western swing as a foundation for exploring other sounds and styles. Where Wills' group often spun into jazz and blues, Asleep branched out into other kinds of country, delving into pure Texas honky tonk, country boogie, and heartache ballads, touching on Hank Williams, Hank Thompson, Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, Ray Price, Patsy Cline, and Loretta Lynn. There's also a dash of post-hippie humor, rearing its head clearly on "Hillbilly Nut," and just the slightest touch of knowingly reverent reserve, as if the group were trying out an uncle's clothes to see if they fit. This little hint of artifice -- this little echo of Commander Cody -- is the only area where the record stumbles, and it's a slight one, the kind of thing that should be expected on a debut, because the group is musically powerful and nimble, re-creating the sound of pure country at a time when it often wasn't heard. Asleep at the Wheel would better this record, but that the band had such a sure grasp on its musical versatility so early in its career is impressive, and the general good spirits Comin' Right at Ya stirs up are infectious. Years later, after many fine records, this still stands as one of their best. AMG.
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