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Willie Nelson - Songbird Review

by Zane Ewton

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Willie Nelson got into a bit of trouble not too long ago. Officers who pulled over his tour bus ran across a couple of bags of unsavory substances. For anyone even remotely familiar with Willie Nelson this was no surprise.

The music legend treated the incident with the same humor and attitude he has treated everything else in his life. Willie got back on the bus and went back to roaming the country like the long-haired, guitar-strumming, immortal gypsy that he is.

As a country artist, Willie Nelson has a reserved space in the hall of heroes. Beyond country music, Willie Nelson is an incredible fixture of Americana. His style and voice are unmatched in popular music. His activism is inspiring, and at the age of 73 he has done just about everything there is to be done in music.

With Songbird, Nelson made a few changes. Ryan Adams and the Cardinals provide backup and Adams stepped into the producer's chair. The alt-country Adams owes his livelihood to Willie Nelson, so he works extra hard to give Nelson something memorable to work with.

The Cardinals give Nelson more of an electric sound, but never fail to stretch out into many moods and genres. They groove on the upbeat rock/country tracks and step back into a beautiful melancholy on the slow songs.

Adams brought a range of songs for Nelson to sing. Willie has been interpreting songs his whole life and his effortless performance is picture perfect on this album. Willie Nelson could sing your grocery list and it would be fantastic.

A good batch of songs only makes the record better. Three of Nelson's classic recordings come back with an immediate, bluesy production. Nelson claims this is the Ryan Adams project but the album is anchored around several of Nelson's memorable compositions, including "Rainy Day Blues", "We Don't Run", "Sad Songs and Waltzes" and a brand new Nelson original, the haunting, harmonica inflected "Back to Earth".

Adams contributes one of his own originals, the gospel-flavored "Blue Hotel". The highly underrated Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac contributes the gorgeous "Songbird" and Willie nails it out of the park. Each track is incredible and far ranging, from the Grateful Dead's "Stella Blue", Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", Gram Parson's "$1000 Wedding" and Harlan Howard's "Yours Love". Each song becomes Willie's own.

Nelson and Adams drag out the most overdone spiritual ever, "Amazing Grace" and give it a completely fresh arrangement. It is perfect as the closer on quite a remarkable album.

Not much else can be said. Willie Nelson is and has always been marvelous and Adams and the Cardinals give him a sound that is both familiar and fresh.

Willie is an essential artist. You can't go wrong.


CD Info and Links

Willie Nelson - Songbird

Label:Lost Highway Records
Rating:

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