Album Review: Two Men With The Blues by Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis
Fairly Good, Based on 3 Critics
AllMusic - 90 Based on rating 9/10
History has proven that Willie Nelson will duet with pretty much anybody who comes along, and while this open-hearted open mind sometimes backfires, more often than not it results in some of his most sublime recordings. Two Men with the Blues, his album with jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis recorded over a two-night stand at Jazz at Lincoln Center on January 12 and 13, 2007, belongs in the latter category, standing as truly one of the most special records in either Nelson's or Marsalis' catalog. If the pair initially seem like an odd match, it's only because Wynton long carried the reputation of a purist, somebody who was adamant against expanding the definition of jazz, which cast him as the opposite of Willie, who never found a border he couldn't blur.
As country music’s king of the high-concept recording, Willie Nelson needs to drop a head-scratcher of a project now and again to keep the Nashville brass guessing and maintain his position on top. Now that the reggae session and children’s albums have been crossed off the list, a live recording date at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis seems like an appropriately unconventional next step. The results of their joint venture don’t sound any closer to any sort of jazz than to country, but as the title suggests, they’ve found common ground in the blues – Nelson lived with them and Marsalis heard about them in Louis Armstrong records, and that will suffice for a one-off stage duel.
Two American music icons, one a genuine country music renegade and the other a tireless, neoconservative champion of jazz, share their love of blues and deep appreciation of American popular songs on this live set, documenting a two-night stand last year at NYC's Jazz at Lincoln Center. Despite the all-too-loose mojo of this one-off engagement, there are moments to savor on the Blues' program of warhorses. Nelson's always been a singer/guitarist with a penchant for jazz phrasing, and it's delightful to hear him on "Night Life" and "Stardust" playing around the beat provided by a flexible combo of Lincoln Center regulars.