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Asleep at the Wheel's new album celebrates 50 years with big-name cameos and old friends

Willie Nelson joins Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel on three tracks of their new album, "Half a Hundred Years."

Austin360 On The Record is a weekly roundup of new, recent and upcoming releases by local and Austin-associated recording artists. 

New releases

Asleep at the Wheel, “Half a Hundred Years” (Home/Thirty Tigers). Ray Benson has been working on celebrations of his iconic band’s 50th anniversary for about three years now, thanks to the pandemic plopping down right in the middle of the party. The concert is now set for Oct. 15 at Waterloo Park — but this 19-song album, out now, is really the coolest and best event of the entire affair.

For starters, there’s the cameos. Willie Nelson? He’s on not one but three tracks, two of them also featuring George Strait (the Bob Wills classic “Take Me Back to Tulsa”) and Emmylou Harris (album closer “The Road Will Hold Me Tonight”). Lyle Lovett shows up on the bluesy “There You Go Again,” while Lee Ann Womack adds a bittersweet duet vocal to a remake of the Wheel’s highest-charting hit, 1975’s “The Letter That Johnny Walker Read.”

Quite a few Wheel alumni show up as well. Chris O’Connell, the most prominent female vocalist in the band’s long tenure, appears on four tracks, as does original drummer (and later guitarist) LeRoy Preston. Elsewhere, 1970s-era steel guitarist Lucky Oceans gives “I Love You Most of All (When You’re Not Here”) a lively guest-vocal turn, with Johnny Nicholas and Elizabeth McQueen turning up on other cuts.

Legendary fiddlers Johnny Gimble and Jesse Ashlock, both formative influences on the band’s Western swing style, appear posthumously on the instrumental “Spanish Two Step.” The album revisits time-tested Wheel staples such as “Miles and Miles of Texas” and “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” with newer material, most notably the freshly written title track, on which Bensons muses, “I tell you, friends, I’ve seen a lot in half a hundred years.” All things considered, if you were to own just one Asleep at the Wheel album, this might well be the best choice.

Playing ACL Fest Friday, Oct. 1. Here’s the title track:

Strand of Oaks, “In Heaven” (Thirty Tigers). The domain of indie singer-songwriter Tim Showalter, Strand of Oaks has released seven albums since 2009, but this is his first since he moved to Austin from Pennsylvania. Like Austin band Heartless Bastards’ new album, “In Heaven” was recorded in Los Angeles with producer Kevin Ratterman. Press materials accompaning the album describe its 11 tracks as “songs that achieve a universality rooted not only in loss, but also joy, celebration, and newfound strength.”

Playing Nov. 12 at Mohawk. Here’s the track “Galacticana”:

Archival release

Various artists, “Mighty Fine: An Austin City Limits Tribute to Walter Hyatt” (Omnivore). After Walter Hyatt died in the ValuJet plane crash in Florida in 1996, the “Austin City Limits” TV show presented a memorable hourlong tribute episode featuring Hyatt’s former Uncle Walt’s Band mates Champ Hood and David Ball, along with fellow Hyatt appreciators Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin, Willis Alan Ramsey, Marcia Ball, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Allison Moorer, Junior Brown and David Halley.

This is the first audio release of the 11 songs from that event, along with seven others recorded at the taping that didn’t make the TV episode (three from Hood, two from Lovett and one from Ball). Four previously unissued Hyatt tracks round out the set. An essay from North Carolina musician journalist Thomas Goldsmith highlights the accompanying CD booklet.

Release show with Warren Hood (Champ's son) and guests Oct. 1 at Saxon Pub. Here’s Willis Alan Ramsey’s rendition of “Lonely in Love”:

Coming soon

OCT. 6: Invincible Czars, “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love” (Van Halen tribute)

OCT. 8: Carolyn Wonderland, “Tempting Fate” (Alligator), playing Oct. 23 at Old Settler’s Music Festival

OCT. 8: Go Fever, “Velvet Fist” (Nine Mile), release show Oct. 8 at Continental Club.

OCT. 14: Buenos Diaz, “Live at Bobo’s”

OCT. 15: Buffalo Nichols, self-titled (Fat Possum)

OCT. 15: David Beck’s Tejano Weekend, “Vol. II”

OCT. 15: Sarah & the Sundays, “The Living End”

OCT. 15: Ben Balmer, “Honky-Tonk Macbeth,” release show Oct. 15 at Saxon Pub

OCT. 22: Sue Foley, “Pinky’s Blues,” pre-release show Oct. 15 at Antone’s

NOV. 5: Matt the Electrician, “We Imagined an Ending”

NOV. 19: Willie Nelson Family, self-titled (Legacy)

NOVEMBER: Walter Daniels & the Del Valle Trustees, “Have a Coffee Break With”

More from Austin360 On The Record:

SEPT 24:Jackie Venson, Tony Kamel, Hong Kong Wigs

SEPT. 17:Rod Gator, Jimmie Vaughan, Pulkingham Layne, Foxtales

SEPT. 10:Heartless Bastards, Intercom Heights, Chris Beall, Conspirare