Press kits are evil. There are some things even journalists don't need to know, like that Dreamworks is planning "a major marketing tie-in with Chevy Truck[s] throughout the Southwest" or that "Americana radio will be a target focus format" for Asleep at the Wheel's second Bob Wills tribute album. One hopes Wills would choke on one of his famous cigars if he heard that shit. Such aggressive marketing and promotion is the label's job, but it also makes this project feel like a stunt. Does hearing Tim McGraw doing "Milk Cow Blues," Reba -- who's evidently misplaced her last name -- taking on "Right or Wrong," or the Squirrel Nut Zippers doing "Maiden's Prayer" really enhance Wills' legacy? No, but they do make all-star projects such as this one "economically viable." Better to focus on the positives, then, like the fact that it's always a treat to hear AATW play Wills' music, whatever the circumstances. Their sizable instrumental acumen reanimates the simple joy of Western swing; it's obvious they were having a ball. Personal favorites are Dwight Yoakam's "New San Antonio Rose" and Clint Black's "Bob Wills Is Still the King" for sentimental reasons, and the Dixie Chicks' frisky "Roly Poly" because it mentions biscuits. Don Walser does a nice vaudevillian turn on "I Ain't Got Nobody," and Lee Ann Womack's "Heart to Heart Talk" is just darling. Old masters Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard turn up for thoughtful renditions of "Going Away Party" and "St. Louis Blues," but the real ringers are former Texas Playboys Tommy Allsup, Herb Remington, and Johnny Gimble. They, and Ray Benson's unswerving devotion to Wills, are the reasons Ride With Bob ultimately triumphs over Dreamworks' shameless promotional pandering. Bet your biscuits on it.
3.5 stars -- Christopher Gray
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