Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Willie Nelson- Songbird

For better and for worse, this trans-generational pairing of Willie Nelson and producer Ryan Adams takes the veteran into musical territory where he wouldn't have likely ventured on his own. There's long been an organic unity to Nelson's signature sound--the way his conversational phrasing plays against the staccato runs of his gypsy guitar, with the backing of a band that's been with him so long he calls them family. On Songbird, Adams substitutes the more aggressively electric backing of his own band, the Cardinals, and plainly had a large say in selecting and arranging the material. Two highlights that most bear his imprint are "Blue Hotel," which Adams wrote for the project and with which Nelson plainly connects, and the bluesy, ominous arrangement by Adams of the closing "Amazing Grace," which sounds closer to "House of the Rising Sun." At the other extreme, Nelson's lumbering take on the Grateful Dead's "Stella Blue," which culminates in an electric squall, sounds like the kind of music Willie would rather not listen to, let alone make. And the hard-edged riffing on "$1000 Wedding" practically bludgeons the Gram Parsons song to death. While the three Nelson originals (two old, one new) all work fine, the rest is hit (Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah") and miss (the title cut, by Fleetwood Mac's Christine McVie). It has been said that Nelson can sing just about anything--which doesn't necessarily mean that he should.

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