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Willie Nelson

It Always Will Be, Outlaws And Angels – 2004 (Lost Highway)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

Age has not seemed to slow down Willie Nelson. The 71 year old has been quite active on the road and in the studio and has two current releases. Though Nelson is amongst the greatest songwriters in the history of country music, he only penned 3 of the 13 tunes on his latest studio effort, "It Always Will Be." The title track and "My Heart Belongs To You" reveal Nelson in fine ballad form, and "Texas" features some fancy pre-carpal tunnel syndrome picking.There are two additional Nelson originals, though they are credited to Nelson's offspring. "Be That As It May" is contributed by daughter Paula, who duets with her father on the track. Also impressive is son Lukas' ballad "You Were It'."

The strongest track is the duet with Lucinda Williams on her excellent composition "Overtime." Other highlights are a duet with Norah Jones ("Dreams Come True") as well as covers of Tom Waits' "Picture In A Frame" and Toby Keith's "Tired."

With "Overtime" Williams also delivers the best offering on the live disc "Outlaws And Angels," recorded in April 2004 at the Ryman Auditorium for a TV special and set for release on DVD. This live collection is hit and miss with many excellent collaberations but a few that don't work.

Next to the Williams duet the most effective cut is "We Had It All", on which Nelson and Keith Richards blend nicely. Fellow country legend Merle Haggard isalso on hand for renditions of "Ramblin' Fever," "Pancho and Lefty" and "Mama Tried." Pop singer/songwriter Carole King performs her classic "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" with Nelson, and Nelson is joined by Shelby Lynne on the standard "Stormy Weather."

Nelson's universal appeal is displayed by the array of artists from various genres who join him including country (Lee Ann Womack), reggae (Toots Hibbert), blues (Holmes Brothers), soul (Al Green) and rock (Ben Harper, Rickie Lee Jones, Los Lonely Boys).

Unfortunately some tracks are less than satisfying. Toby Keith and Joe Walsh seem incongruous on "Georgia On a Fast Train," and "Shotgun Willie" with Kid Rock is barely listenable. Kid Rock also invades what would have otherwise been a fun version of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" with Jerry Lee Lewis, Haggard and Richards.

Though some may long for more new material from one of the masters there is more than enough on these releases to keep Nelson enthusiasts satisfied.