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Willie Nelson

Spirit – 1999 (Island)

Reviewed by Chuck Hamilton

To paraphrase Forrest Gump, a Willie Nelson album is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get. He has the rare ability to cross categorical lines, yet still have his feet firmly planted in country. Nelson, too old to be a hunk-of-the-month and too young to quit singing and playing, has come up with another winner, a collection of self-penned songs, done with spare arrangements that are the antithesis of the overproduced fodder of country radio. It's just Willie, joined by Johnny Gimble on fiddle, Jody Payne playing bass, and sister Bobbie on piano. This is not quite a concept album like "Stanger," but most songs deal with relationships, with the opposite sex and with the Almighty (both of which have their share of difficulties). "Too Sick to Pray" and "I'm Waiting Forever" are two of the better tracks, but Nelson, who can coax more music out of a weatherbeaten voice and a beat-up Martin guitar than just about anyone, remains consistent throughout the other 11 cuts as well. Picking up a line or a phrase you might have missed the first time, this is an album you'll want to listen to time and time again.