Black Music Matters Festival

Willie Nelson

To Lefty from Willie – 2003 (Columbia)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

Willie Nelson turned 70 in April, and much like it did to honor Johnny Cash during his 70th year, Columbia Records is re-releasing some of Willie's best albums from his most productive years.

Among the re-releases to commemorate Willie's 70th birthday, "To Lefty from Willie" doesn't distinguish itself, yet it stands up pretty well. This Willie Nelson 1977 tribute to Lefty Frizzell really is just another Willie Nelson record. Willie croons, the band picks, and 10 songs later - 11 in this case - the record is over. This album originally clocked in at an amazingly brisk 28 minutes. With the addition of a previously unrecorded version of "If You've Got the Money" it barely surpasses 30 minutes.

Despite the brevity, this is Willie at his bare minimum, retro-country outlaw finest. Reaching back for Lefty's hits and then some, Spartan production and thankfully restrained Willie vibrato produces some wonderful moments. "Always Late" could have been a Willie croakfest, and Willie restrains his sometimes wild picking on "Gone, Gone, Gone."

Willie deftly mingles his shuffles and waltzes with some mighty fine back-porch pickers, especially "I Never Go Around Mirrors" and "That's the Way Love Goes." It's one among Willie's Columbia catalog - certainly not the best, but nothing to hide either.