Wednesday, February 15, 2006

My buddy Jeremy sent me a copy of the new Willie Nelson cd, "Countryman." He asked me to review it and to let him know what I thought about this new venture of Willie's. The following is an email discussion on the topic:

(Eric Wrote):
"On the topic of Willie. I was skeptical about this album and, knowing your musical background (as diverse as it might be), was quite curious of what beauty you found in this marriage of a country boy and his dreadlock dawning counterparts. I was aware of your inclination towards the talents of our island influences, but not that of the 'country' flavor. I tried to keep an open mind, as I know that you and I are a lot alike in our multifarious tastes in music. While my I have never personally purchased a 'country' genre album, I do have a small personal collection of country music (came with the marriage) and I do enjoy a variety of country music from time to time.

My first impression was that this album was very "Jimmy Buffet-esque." And why not, Jimmy has been very successful in keeping his music 'different'. In the first couple of songs, I had a hard time with the twang of the slide-guitar, the bouncy bass in the background, and the oh so familiar off-beat guitar strum played on top. The music is up-beat and happy, as it should be. Yet, despite the 'Don't-worry-be-happy' sound the music portrays, Willie kept with the repressed view of the world and relationships that is so common in lore of country music.

I was pleased with the songs that moved closer in one direction or another (ie, more country or more reggae). Such as, "The harder they come" or "Undo the Right." I guess there is something inside of me that has a hard time accepting with these two very different sounds coming together. One final critique would be the decision to order "I've Just destroyed the World" and "You Left me a long, long time ago" so closely together. As "You Left me..." began to play, I thought my CD was skipping, because these two songs are played in the same key, tempo and rhythm (though, not too uncommon for reggae music).

Overall, I find the album to be entertaining at best, but wouldn't put it on my list of favorite albums or musical experiences. Please don't get me wrong, I have a world of respect for Willie, his music and his accomplishments over his lifetime. I suppose that, as many songs as Willie has written, he probably was getting bored and wanted to explore a different genre. I don't know whether this was his first venture into the world of reggae or not, but I wouldn't call it a failure. It's just not as sweet on my musical palate as some may express.

I can see how this album would be 'fun' for the country music lover. Which brings up the question of whether you've been so heavily influenced by such tastes by living in the 'South' as long as you have? Or has this always been a part of you and I just never saw it?

So, what's next for Willie? Opera? Symphony? A duet with Josh Grobin, or the likes of 'Celtic woman', Máiréad Nesbitt?"

(to which Jeremy replied):
I think Willie's next venture is to smoke pot & play golf, but I'm not sure...

I, like you, am not a huge country music fan, but I have always enjoyed Willie's stuff - he has a great way of styling songs, and can usually carry the weight of the 'sad sack' lyrics better than just about anyone. You are astute in your judgments about the authenticity of the reggae-ness - it is not 100% true-blue reggae by any means (in fact, I couldn't tell if it was reggae or Tejano-based the first few times I listened to it - especially the first 2 songs). The things I like about it most are: 1) Willie is taking some chances. I respect that. 2) Willie manages to stay pretty true to what he does - he doesn't force himself as a singer into any type of reggae-type stylings. He sings the way he always has & lets the reggae influence surround him. 3) It's a fun CD to sing along with.

Don't get me wrong - I don't think this is an artistic masterwork fusing two disparate cultures into a single, cohesive unit of expression (as did Paul Simon's "Graceland"). I am not anticipating that this record will crack my Top-5 list of Willie Nelson's greatest achievements (especially after the release of such gems as "Spirit" and "Teatro"), much less my Top-5 list of favorite records. That said, I like the record a lot - it's fresh, it's fun, it has a beat I can dance to. I give it an 83...


So there you have it... because I know many of you were wondering. ;-)



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