Release Date: Apr 20, 2010
Record label: Rounder
For whatever reason, the clip at which Willie Nelson records reproduce breeds cynicism in some listeners, especially when those records fail to capture the organic dynamism that Nelson’s best work trades in. The responsible party, it often seems, is the producer. Over the past decade or so, Nelson has had mixed results working with celebrity producers who have tried to emphasize his kinship with either the reggae journeymen (2005’s Countryman with Don Was), the no-shirt, no-problem strain of contemporary country (2007’s Moment of Forever with Kenny Chesney and Buddy Cannon), or spindly, scruffy late-period Americana (2006’s Songbird with Ryan Adams).
Willie Nelson: Country Music[Rounder]85/100 Jakob Dylan: Women and Country[Columbia]72/100 T Bone Burnett countries up an unlikely pair Among the many differences between Willie Nelson and Jakob Dylan, there’s the matter of frequency: The silver-braided Nelson releases new records two or three times a year, like clockwork, while the younger Dylan has kept a more measured pace since his band The Wallflowers wilted from its late-’90s peak. Nonetheless, both performers tapped T Bone Burnett to be the sonic architect of their latest efforts, each album playing with its own idea of country music and showcasing two different sides of the Oscar-winning producer. Nelson’s Country Music thumps to life with the unfussy airs of a pickin’ parlor throwdown.
As Willie Nelson himself puts it in the press release: "This is my definition of real country music." This is handy information, since followers of Nelson have witnessed about a hundred definitions of country music—the '60s songwriter who wrote "Crazy," the '70s progressive strains of The Red Headed Stranger, the glitz of Stardust, the very modern Teatro, or the inevitable reggae album Countryman, just to name a few. Mr. Nelson is happy to throw tradition by the wayside, let's just say.
Naturally, the not-so-unspoken joke behind the title of Willie Nelson’s 2010 album is that it’s been so long since he’s played straight country music, Nelson needs to clearly label it when he does. Of course, that’s not strictly true: just as recently as 2009 he was ripping it up with Asleep at the Wheel, turning out a straight-ahead western swing record that is every bit as country as Country Music, although it is true that he’s never quite cut a collection of country music as hushed and muted as this. The soft-plucked string bass and strummed acoustic guitars are are trademarks of T-Bone Burnett, the roots music producer whose well-tailored analog impressionism fetishizes authenticity, prizing every piece of pristinely preserved vintage equipment and then recording them immaculately -- often with appealing results, but with a mannered ritualization that’s somewhat distancing for those who don’t share his obsessions.
MERLE HAGGARD “I Am What I Am”. (Vanguard).
So assured is Nelson that it’s impossible not to feel the love. Colin Irwin 2010 Having long strayed into the mainstream amid duets with everyone from Julio Iglesias to Wyclef Jean and Jon Bon Jovi, Willie Nelson has diversified into so many different musical territories – becoming an iconic figure in the process – that it’s easy to forget that his proud, primary heritage lies deep in the heart of country music. Listening to this not unattractive, but rather desultory album, it’s also easy to overlook the pivotal role he played in the great country wars when Willie and Waylon and Kris Kristofferson dramatically changed the image of Nashville.
When Billy Joe Shaver was found not guilty of shooting a man in the face earlier this month, Willie Nelson was there, supporting his friend from the back row. While Shaver embodies the roadhouse rebel archetype of the country singer, Nelson's always been the flip side, the wise owl whose songs come from the heart as well as the hardscrabble, with a croon that embodies both. It's all there in the title of his new T Bone Burnett-produced LP, a collection of country, gospel, and bluegrass standards reworked with some old-time religion.
WILLIE NELSON Country Music (VANGUARD) Rating: While the world has changed drastically since Willie Nelson first came on the scene fifty years ago, the man himself has rarely wavered from the gorgeously simplistic country tunes he’s known for. His latest album, Country Music, is Willie at his finest, characteristically understated and effortless. For this album, Nelson tips his hat to the humble roots of the country music he loves.