Jun 02, 2010 Web Exclusive
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. When those whims lead him to a producer with a particular vision, there can be some serious synergy, and that's definitely the case here.
Pairing Willie Nelson with the deft ear of T-Bone Burnett is such an obvious notion that it's amazing it took this long. Throw 'em both in a Nashville studio with a bunch of A-list session musicians, knock out a few takes of classic country tunes with fairly minimal arrangements, and that's that. Essentially, that's what happened here, with Burnett's hands-off approach delivering a superbly live and warm recording.
Country Music collects 15 Nelson faves from the likes of Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Merle Travis, and other front-porch luminaries. Nelson can really highlight the emotion in these songs. "Dark as a Dungeon" makes one wonder if Nelson's affinity for biodiesel was inspired by actual mining experience. "A Satisfied Mind" is on par with Gram Parsons' version or anybody else's (perhaps that's just a testament to the song). The closer is a haunting version of "Nobody's Fault But Mine," with 'verbed-out tremolo guitars, a crawling tempo, and a little bit of dramatic tension to go out on.
If Stardust illustrated where Nelson got some of his melodicism and songwriting chops, Country Music shows where he found his emotional compass. One can't help but notice "My Baby's Gone," with its apocalyptic take on love, mirrors a few old Nelson classics such as "I've Just Destroyed the World (I'm Living In)." Or how about Bill Mack's "Drinking Champagne," a tributary to Nelson's "Whiskey River." These tunes are clearly close to Nelson's soul, and with his renditions he proves that in order to buck tradition, it helps if you master it first. (www.willienelson.com)
Author rating: 7/10
Average reader rating: 6/10