Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Matt Oliver, Will Kreinke and Sam Patlove, Mastered by Sam Patlove
At some point, we should all just think about once and for all unfurling our brows, unclenching our teeth and fists, stop worrying about all of the woes out there, forget that most things are pretty difficult and that the entire world and all its people are going absolutely mad. We should all just think about how much older it's all making us feel, how it's getting to us and our skin feels unhealthy, everything aches and our hair's graying and falling out at an accelerated rate. We're, none of us, getting any damned younger and all of that is depressing. We can just stop it all though and begin engaging in those truly inexpensive and enthralling pursuits, like eying and wooing pretty girls and sitting around the bar or on the porch with the boys, a brisket slow-smoking in the cooker around the corner, with the weather not too hot and not too cold. The laugh lines would be more prominent on the cheeks, which suddenly had a glow about them that wasn't there before. Everyone in the bunch would be twice to three times as jovial as they had been before the new resolution and everyone would feel that newfound ease of way, having shucked off the foolish worries. Asleep At The Wheel, the legendary country and western outfit fronted by band leader Ray Benson since he and Lucky Oceans started the group in Paw Paw, West Virginia in 1969, is a more than a band of musicians. They are literally this altered lifestyle - this thought of just taking all of the copious problems and hang-ups of daily life, putting them in your pipe and smoking them or just letting the mood change with the draining of brown bottles of whatever's handy. Benson, as a singer and probably as a man, is one of those good time, old time country boys who refuse to have anything but a good time. It's reflected in the numerous songs about the fun that can be had in saloons and the undeniable joy that comes with spotting a sexy woman across the way and having your eyes full of her, hoping to have your arms and hands full later on in the evening, if the wit and the charm has kicked in the way that it has in the past. He's likely got line after line that he feeds rooms like that - rooms full of endless possibility, camaraderie, laughs, playful put-downs, friends, smoke clouding the proceedings and a night that could just keep going on until the chickens start clucking again in the morning. He makes the nights sound so easy, with his deep timbre (which must represent the decades and decades of his familiarity with this stuff), and the mornings sound so rough, if not impossible to manage or sleep off. He sings on "Oh! Pretty Woman," from the band's latest, "Willie and the Wheel," "With lots of these and plenty of those/And miles and miles of sweaty clothes/Oh, you pretty woman," and he makes us want those nights - those easy nights and days that come to ends when the bodies are just worn out and the clothing is in disarray, just like the bottles and cans.