Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Willie Nelson -- Country Music

Country Music

Willie Nelson, who turns 77 on Friday, has got to be one of the most prolific of all recording artists. He’s rooted in the Texas country tradition, but, like Ray Charles, he’s a genre-crosser who’s made compelling music in all sorts of styles. I have no idea how many albums he’s made over the years, but I’ve got more than 30 Willie Nelson keepers sitting on my shelves. (To be honest, there have also been some that haven’t made it on to my keeper shelves.)

In recent years, Nelson has released several excellent albums including Two Men with the Blues, a classy set of jazz and blues with Wynton Marsalis and his band, and Willie and the Wheel, a great western swing album with Asleep At the Wheel.

Add Country Music, recorded with a drummerless collection of A-list musicians assembled by producer T-Bone Burnett – and including Folk Roots/Folk Branches guest Riley Baugus on clawhammer banjo and Buddy Miller on electric guitar – to Nelson's list of fine recent albums. This one rooted, as the album title implies, in traditional country music. Most of the songs are bona fide classics.

The album opens “Man with the Blues,” the only Nelson original, an old-school honky tonk tune like the kind of songs Nelson was probably singing back in the 1950s, and closes with a deep-from-the-well arrangement of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” an African American gospel tune that's given a haunting arrangement featuring Nelson stalwart Mickey Raphael on bass harmonica, Dennis Crouch’s heartbeat bass playing and some eerie guitar interplay between Nelson on gut string acoustic and Miller on electric.

One of my favourite tracks is an exciting rendition of f the Delmore Brothers’ “Freight Train Boogie” which, like Doc Watson’s version, you can’t help but feel the train boogieing down the tracks.

Other highlights include Merle Travis’ coalmining classic, “Dark as a Dungeon,” the tongue-in-cheek “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” and a sweet version of Hank Williams’ “House of Gold” that seems like a traditional folksong.

--Mike Regenstreif

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