Willie Nelson -- Songbird (Lost Highway)

Now that he's done almost everything else -- Jazz standards, Blues, duets, even a (great) Reggae album last year -- it's nice to finally hear a straight "Rock" production on a Willie Nelson re

 
Willie Nelson — Songbird



Now that he's done almost everything else — Jazz standards, Blues, duets, even a (great) Reggae album last year — it's nice to finally hear a straight "Rock" production on a Willie Nelson record. Producer Ryan Adams does a bang-up job on lead guitar, bringing some reckless fire and feedback to a Willie session. Starting out with Willie's laid-back "Rainy Day Blues" and a brilliant AltCountry spin on Christine McVie's "Songbird," the album begins with real promise. Adams and Nelson each brought one new tune to the project ("Blue Hotel" and "Back To Earth," respectively) and they are both strong contributions. The Adams/Nelson pairing reaches its zenith and fulfills all its potential with a heartbreaking rendition of The Grateful Dead's "Stella Blue" and a song that Willie sounds like he was born to sing, Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." But I'm not sure using Adams' band The Cardinals was such a good idea. It is the sound of trying to graft a huge old branch off a towering Redwood onto a little sapling. Granted, there are some inspired performances here, but when it comes time to swing, they just don't cut it. In "Sad Songs And Waltzes," drummer Brad Pemberton fails to keep a steady tempo. And based on her performance here, bassist Catherine Popper couldn't walk a dog. At times Songbird sounds slapdash and rushed. In fact, by the end of the record there is weariness in Willie's voice that sounds like he's grown tired of trying to jive with these well-intended but clearly outclassed kids. But perhaps that's just because Adams failed to keep Willie's voice high in the mix throughout the record. In the last fleeting moments of "Blue Hotel," Adams grants the gospel choir background singers less than 20 seconds to reprise the song's beautiful chorus before silence drops like a lead curtain. It is the perfect aching metaphor for the album's missed opportunities. (Ric Hickey) Grade: B-

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