‘Willie And The Wheel’  (Bismeaux)

Release Date – 07/06/2010

Originally appeared on GIITTV



At the grand old milestone of 77, Willie Nelson should be moseying around on some Austin homestead, kicking back those old dusty spurred cowboy boots and taking life easy. But oh no, not Nelson, he’d rather continue travelling the parries on tour and recording albums like their going out of fashion.

For a man who’s had more comebacks then it seems humanly plausible – from the rhythm and blues faze of the early 60s to the outlaw country of the 70s – it seems fitting that even today he can still manage to captivate Glastonbury. There ‘ain’t a damn’ sub-genre or theme that Nelson hasn’t invented or ripped his way through, from the more staunch tradition of Nashville to the counter culture rebellion, he’s rubbed shoulders or sung with every iconic figure in country music, including Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson.

Nelson is in fact an American institution, who could easily fill up at least ten of my review spaces with his achievements, but I have to instead talk about his latest album Willie And The Wheel, which sees him take a fond look back towards the roots of country music, to the rediscovery of classic western swing.

Originally a project conceived by the late Jerry Wexler more then thirty years ago, when Nelson was signed to his Atlantic label, this catalogue of old tunes was never recorded until recently – Nelson moved to CBS records and didn’t get the chance.

Grammy award winning country musician and producer Ray Benson, a close friend of Wexler, took up the challenge to finally make this album, with the help of his much-lauded posse of accomplished players Asleep At The Wheel.

Most of these standard western and Texas swing tunes have been subtly re-arranged by Benson with, until his untimely death, the helpful assistance of Wexler, who insisted that they included a horn section alongside the more traditional fiddles and lap steel guitar, favoured by this music.

This catalogue of twelve songs is made up of good ol’ tales of heartbreak and broken promises, set to the well greased elbow work of the enthusiastic fiddles, the gentle pleasing twangs of the lap steel and the shuffling rolling brushed accompanying drums.

Nelson sings these do-si-do songs like he’s putting on a comfortable pair of faithful slippers, all cosy and warm, emitting a deep sense of satisfaction, face beaming.

There are plenty of waxed lyrical laments to certain tumultuous head-turners, ‘Sweet Jennie Lee’, lyrics about falling for a dirty stop-out, ‘Corrine Corrina’, and double-entendre metaphors relating to mammas finest baked cake, ‘I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None Of This Jellyroll’.

A large proportion of these tunes follow a more quick-fire response joviality, which bounces along, but there are one or two exceptions, one of these is the slower paced bawdry comedy balled of ‘I’m Sitting On Top Of The World’, which has Nelson duet with Elizabeth McQueen in a sardonic fuelled exchanged back and forth series of put-downs and bravado. Each of our protagonists pretends to not give a damn about the other, but its obvious they’re made for one another.

Allusions to the old radio city music hall of yesteryear are made apparent on the opener ‘Hesitation Blues’, a up-tempo joint of descriptive honky tonk piano and breezy waning guitar with a chorus of blushing antiquated voices straight from a Bakelite radio set.

A most gratifying and pleasurable experience, this collection of 20s and 30s classics will warm even the most callous of souls and cold hearts, prompting uncontrollable bouts of foot tapping and slapping of the thigh.

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