Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Marking Time: Willie Nelson's Country Music

Willie Nelson's varied musical history ranges from the Gypsy Swing of Django Reinhardt to the honky-tonk of Hank Williams. His diverse output includes pop, jazz and country music. Last year, for instance, Nelson released one of the best country albums of 2009 with Asleep at the Wheel. It was a straight-ahead inspired recording from the first note to the last. For 2010, Nelson has released a pure, unadorned masterpiece simply called, Country Music, produced by T-Bone Burnett. It features Buddy Miller on electric guitar, Stuart Duncan on fiddle and Jim Lauderdale singing harmony. It's been released on Rounder Records, one of the best advocates of contemporary country and folk music for many years. The cover features an image of a large empty barn and the sessions were recorded in Nashville. So everything about this album spells "country." Musically, Nelson covers songs from his own catalogue as a songwriter, and pulls a few selections from the pens of Ray Price, Doc Watson and Hank Williams. The outstanding tracks for me, though, are three traditional songs arranged by Burnett and Nelson. These are "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down," "I am A Pilgrim," and "Nobody's Fault But Mine." Nelson's aging voice on these songs is the unpretentious marking of an important and reflective time in his life, now that he's over 75 years. So in spite of his varied musical history, the man is most comfortable under the influence of "country music."

-- John Corcelli is an actor, musician, writer, broadcaster and theatre director.

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