Black Music Matters Festival

Willie Nelson

Songbird – 2006 (Lost Highway)

Reviewed by Jason MacNeil

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Take one icon and put him with one current critical darling and see if they can work and record together. At least that was the idea behind Willie Nelson's latest where is he is backed and assisted by Ryan Adams and The Cardinals. And while it is not on par with Nelson's best stuff, the challenge seems to have made some tunes come off quite nicely, including the fine bluesy opener "Rainy Day Blues," which sounds like Dylan's current format.

But the choice of covers is a hit and miss affair, beginning with a mediocre take on Fleetwood Mac's "Songbird." Following the slow, soulful gospel-meets-country of "Blue Hotel" penned by Adams, Nelson shines on his own material such as "Back To Earth." Yet even the tender "Stella Blue" written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter is a murky stretch at best. The same can be said for the waltz-like rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

However, there are some gems here, particularly the ragged, moody and Stones-like "$1000 Wedding" written by Gram Parsons as well as the chugging, toe-tapper "We Don't Run." And Nelson shines with the tender traditional country of "Yours Love." Closing the album is a rather strange but powerful "Amazing Grace" that is a dark version of the classic. It's an album that makes you forget about the "Countryman" fiasco.