On her classic records such as “Let’s Have A Party,” Wanda Jackson’s hyperactive growl promised a whole new world of fun. At the Knitting Factory Saturday night, the 66-year-old Queen of Rockabilly (celebrating her 50th year in the music business) still performs with an impish twinkle and joy.
Strolling through a rangy, hourlong set that touched on all aspects of her career — feisty ingenue, country balladeer and, since 1971, gospel singer — Jackson managed to pay tribute to her past without falling into nostalgic self-regard. It’s not that her voice has remained remarkably strong — although she doesn’t attack her ’50s hits such as “Mean, Mean Man” and “Fujiyama Mama” with the same breakneck energy — but she approaches her life with modesty and humor.
She mixes anecdotes about Elvis Presley (they dated at the start of his career), Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis with stories about her ladies’ guitar (designed, she said, to accommodate a womanly bustline).
With the Cadillac Angels providing spare, unhurried accompaniment, Jackson chose her material wisely, concentrating on songs from last year’s impressive comeback “Heart Trouble” (CMH Records).
Highlights included a loping cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “Cash on the Barrelhead,” a swinging “Funnel of Love” and a heartfelt “I Saw the Light.” Only a plodding take on Leiber and Stoller’s “Riot in Cellblock #9” missed its mark.