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WANDA JACKSON, CADILLAC ANGELS at the Derby, January 2401/31/2003
WANDA JACKSON, CADILLAC ANGELS at the Derby, January 24
"I guess all these songs are for the women," Wanda Jackson said before launching into the original riot-grrl anthem, "Mean Mean Man." Later she praised the gal who designed her acoustic guitar for thoughtfully leaving plenty of room for cleavage. A spitfire diva who toured with Elvis and wrote many of her own classic rockabilly hits, Jackson was refreshingly humble and down-to-earth at the Derby. She thanked the crowd for "letting" her have a quick, sanctimony-free run through the old-time gospel of "I Saw the Light." It had a good beat; most of the artfully decked-out extras from Happy Days kept dancing. Although her radiant voice soared unbroken throughout the too-short set, she stroked her throat and apologized "if I sound a bit Ferlin in the Husky."
Truth is, she sounded wonderful, with backing trio Cadillac Angels kicking up a driving, rootsy ramble that subsided for a precious few country ballads. "Country music and rockabilly are kissin\' cousins," she explained, alluding to the days when critics from both camps insisted she choose only one style. (You don\'t want to fence in a woman who introduced "Riot in Cell Block #9" by declaring, "I\'ve never been to prison — that\'s one joint I\'ve missed.")
Despite the thrilling closing fusillade of "Let\'s Have a Party" and "Whole Lotta Shakin\' Goin\' On," the show\'s highlight came earlier on a casually tossed-off performance of Charlie McCoy & Kent Westberry\'s "Tunnel of Love," one of those haunting, soul-baring tunes — like "Sally Go \'Round the Roses" and Peggy Lee\'s "Fever" — that linger timelessly, beyond genre. As the fillies\' skirts whipped on the dance floor, Jackson was momentarily framed by a funnel of synchronized spinning limbs. A guy held his partner\'s hand behind her back for a quick moment, stealing a kiss when they paused midtwirl. Jackson looked down knowingly, teasingly, and sang, "The tunnel of love . . . it\'s gonna get you someday."