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Asleep At The Wheel
Live at Billy Bob's Texas

Review By Steven Stone
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Asleep At The Wheel Live at Billy Bob's Texas

Label: Smith Music Group DVD-60232, CD-50232 


  Asleep at the Wheel has carved out a niche almost as big as Texas playing western swing.  Begun in 1969, Asleep at the Wheel has stayed true to leader Ray Benson's vision of what country music should sound like. Based on a style pioneered by Bob Wills "the Elvis Presley of western swing" Asleep at the Wheel features tight ensemble playing, hot solos, and polished arrangements.

Asleep at The Wheel's latest release showcases the band in their native environment, playing live in a Texas venue. It's available both as a CD or DVD, so if you don't want to use your eyes you can opt for the CD. But for the full live effect, I strongly recommend the DVD. Unlike many live-performance DVD's, this disc has excellent production values, including fine editing, good camera angles, excellent sharpness, sumptuous color saturation, and lively cinematic pacing. In short, this is easily the best live concert DVD I've seen. Produced and edited by Michael Drumm along with executive producers Rick Smith and Billy Minick, this is one of many DVD's in the Live at Billy Bob's Texas series. Other artists captured live onstage include Roy Clark, Gary Stewart, and Merle Haggard.

Since its inception Asleep at the Wheel has had 90 different musicians in the band.  The current roster includes Ray Benson on guitar and lead vocals, David Miller on bass and vocals, Jason Roberts on fiddle, electric guitar, and vocals, Hayden Vitera on fiddle and vocals, David Danger on drums, John Michael Whitby on piano and vocals, Jim Murphy on steel guitar and saxophone, and Cindy Cashdollar on steel guitar. While singling out individuals in this precision musical unit is similar to picking the best tasting color for M&Ms, the twin fiddle work of Roberts and Vitera can't help but make a strong impression. Haydn Vitera also does a sterling vocal job on the Vivan Keith and Ben Peters song "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" which was originally a big hit for Freddy Fender.

Along with the sixteen songs, the DVD includes two nifty special features; an interview with Ray Benson, and a photo gallery of still images. Unlike many concert DVDs which offer only stereo or Dolby derived surround mixes, Live at Billy Bob's Texas includes Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 discrete surround mixes in addition to a 2-channel Dolby Digital soundtrack. I prefer the DTS audio because of its added bass energy, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix also sounds great. Recording engineers Paul Whitehead and Bob Wright deserve a lot of credit for capturing Asleep at the Wheel's vibrant live sound.

If you are an Asleep at the Wheel fan Live at Billy Bob's Texas is simply a must have. Even if you have only a moderate interest in western swing Live at Billy Bobs can turn you into a hardcore fan.




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