Spending an evening with Wanda Jackson is like hanging out with your kindly grandmother, if your kindly grandmother once dated Elvis and powered through a 58-year recording career that has has included, most recently, collaborations with Jack White and Justin Townes Earle. “Unfinished Business,” her new album produced by Earle, is the occasion for a fall tour that stopped Sunday at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, where Jackson, who turns 75 this week, rocked and rolled her way through a set of songs stretching back to the ’50s.
She goes for a more understated look than, say, the country-ball gown stylings of Loretta Lynn, dressing demurely in a white top and black slacks, but Jackson owned the microphone the entire 70-odd minutes she was on stage. After a pair of warmup songs by her band, the High Dollars, Jackson blew through the rockabilly classic “Riot in Cell Block #9,” her voice a mix of sweet and scratchy. She lent an arch, coquettish air to the rockabilly-country hybrid “I Gotta Know,” yodeled on “Betcha My Heart I Love You” and did the fist-swinging Loretta one better on the ruefully wry early ’60s country tune “My Big Iron Skillet.”
Jackson told stories and shared memories between songs, and expressed gratitude to White and Earle for the care they have taken in furthering her career. She sang covers of “Shakin’ All Over” and Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” from the White-produced 2011 album “The Party Ain’t Over,” and let the heartache bleed through on “Am I Even a Memory” from “Unfinished Business.”
After her No. 1-in-Japan hit “Fujiyama Mama” and a testimonial about finding Christ that led off “I Saw the Light,” Jackson ended the main set with “Let’s Have a Party,” the 1960 song that has become her signature tune. She returned for a medley of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Hard Headed Woman.”
Canadian throwback country musician Daniel Romano opened with a set of classic gutbucket tunes that he delivered in a voice that was reminiscent at times of a young Willie Nelson.
Wanda Jackson’s set list: