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Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel

Willie and the Wheel – 2009 (Bismeaux)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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CDs by Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel

It's hard to believe that Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel didn't collaborate decades ago because this pairing makes so much sense. The idea actually was the brainchild of the late Atlantic Records exec Jerry Wexler 30 years ago, but personnel changes and time got in the way. Nelson has recorded western swing songs over the years, and AATW follows, of course, in the tradition of Bob Wills, the king of Texas swing so these guys know of what they create.

Nelson handles lead vocals on all of the songs with the Wheel backing him up, and the singer is in great form. He melds the songs around his voice, cutting words here, elongating them there. There's an easy-going quality to the delivery, which isn't to say effortless.

And the Wheel mesh well with Nelson, never overwhelming him. These guys know a thing or two about making the music lively as well. Sometimes it's the pedal steel that does it (the excellent Bring It On Down To My House), other times fiddle.

To their credit, the co-conspirators don't necessarily go for tried and true sounds. Yes, they offer their versions of Right Or Wrong, Corrinne Corrina and I'm Sittin' on Top of the World. But many of the 12 songs are not exactly fan favorites. The closing Won't You Ride in My Little Red Wagon was made famous by Hanks Thompson and Penny. Willie cut the song himself in 1981. There's also a hot instrumental, South, featuring Vince Gill and Paul Shaffer, which cooks throughout. The joy in making this music is palpable. Good thing they didn't delay any longer.