Black Music Matters Festival

Willie Nelson

Hill Country Christmas – 1997 (Finer Arts)

Reviewed by Brian Wahlert

No matter what record label Willie Nelson's on, who he's recording with (his sister Bobbie plays piano here), or what he's recording (11 Christmas songs), he never ceases to amaze with his weathered, nasal voice and impeccable classical guitar playing.

Nowhere does he sound better vocally than on "Joy to the World," where he's backed only by Bobbie's piano, and the obligatory rendition of Willie's classic "Pretty Paper" also comes off very well.

The only new song "El Nino" is included in both its original version and as an instrumental, and although it's not very interesting lyrically, its Spanish flavor offers Willie the chance to stretch out on guitar. In fact, the only song that fails is a horribly misguided duet with Gene Autry on "Here Comes Santa Claus." It's just an Autry recording with Willie's vocals dubbed in, and the voices don't mix very well. Even country legends are allowed one bad song on an otherwise good album.