With more than 30 albums since 1973, Asleep at the Wheel always seems to have another record around the corner. But next month’s “New Routes” is worthy of special attention, as it’s the band’s first collection of primarily new original material in more than a decade.
After 2007’s “Reinventing the Wheel,” bandleader Ray Benson and his crew stayed plenty busy with projects that included another Bob Wills tribute, a Christmas album and collaborations with Willie Nelson and Texas Playboys legend Leon Rausch. Benson also made a solo record (plus a duo disc with Dale Watson), and fiddler Katie Shore did an album of her own as well.
“New Routes” mixes new tunes (with both Benson and Shore as featured vocalists) with a handful of carefully chosen covers, including Guy Clark’s classic “Dublin Blues” and the rockabilly gem “Seven Nights to Rock.” But there’s a bonus track at the end that’s likely to generate significant attention.
“Willie Got There First” features Seth and Scott Avett of the Avett Brothers, who’ve become good friends with Benson in recent years. They appeared on the Wheel’s 2016 “Still the King” tribute to Wills, and performed with the band as part of Benson’s 66th birthday bash during South by Southwest last year (a show that also featured Willie Nelson).
Seth Avett wrote “Willie Got There First” as a nod to the Red Headed Stranger, working references to Nelson standards such as “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” “Crazy” and “Yesterday’s Wine” into a tune about how Willie is a “renaissance master” of country songwriting. Benson chimes in to sing the final verse. Here’s the track:
It must be noted that the song’s initial verse and chorus feel a little off-base. The narrator sings of being inspired to write a song about his loved one’s crying blue eyes, only to realize that “Willie got there first.” The beautiful “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” was, of course, written by Fred Rose, though Nelson’s rendition of the song is iconic.
Asleep at the Wheel’s “New Routes” comes out Sept. 14 via Bismeaux/Thirty Tigers. The band once again will kick off the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Oct. 5, their 17th straight year in that role.