Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bluegrass, old Willie don't mix

It’s springtime in Texas, and that means more and more country music fans will want to get outside, and many will want to take their music with them.

One of the most portable forms of country music is the woody acoustic sound of bluegrass. I’ve mentioned before that not all country music fans care for bluegrass, and even for most bluegrass fans, a little of it can go a long way. But there’s no denying the enduring impact of the unique dirt road, banjo-and-fiddle sound, since most successful country chart-toppers list bluegrass among their primary influences.

So let’s talk about some new bluegrass music just coming out.

“Country Music” by Willie Nelson

Always on the lookout for something new and different to play, Willie Nelson teamed with Oscar-winning music wizard T-Bone Burnett for his new bluegrass-flavored collection, “Country Music.” Together, the two tapped the talents of the acoustic super-picking crew that made the Alison Krauss/Robert Plant gem “Raising Sand” the hottest set in recorded music a few years back.

But, even as a Willie fan and an acoustic Americana fan, I can’t say I’m impressed with the results.

Oh, the music is absolutely superb on longtime favorites like “Dark as a Dungeon,” “I Am a Pilgrim,” “Seaman’s Blues” and “Freight Train Boogie,” and Nelson’s aging vocal approach is just getting more and more expressive as time goes by. Also, Nelson’s new song for the album, “Man With the Blues,” could easily become one of those nonhit classics that everyone knows and likes, even if they don’t know why.

The problem is, even as good as both are, Willie’s voice just doesn’t fit with the earthy backup music. I don’t know if it’s because we’re just so used to hearing him in his own band setting or what, but there’s a stylistic clash here that I just can’t get past.

Good songs, good playing, good singing, but “Country Music” just doesn’t quite jell.

More reviews.

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