Review: Country Music – Willie Nelson

Pay close attention boys and
When the HVBA webmeister asked me if I’d like to review a newly received CD from Rounder Records by Willie Nelson, like Annie Oakley, I said, “I’ll give it a shot.” But I first must address some anticipated criticism from my detractors who may say, “Hey, is this really bluegrass?”

Is this bluegrass? Not to hit King Wilke with a blunt object, but this, in my inflated opinion, is the real stuff. Willie’s CD is named Country Music. This album is on the Rounder Record label, so it has to be bluegrass, right? It will also be available at Starbucks, so you yuppie bluegrass fans can get your caffeine and scones with your music.

I’ll admit I have a deep-seated visceral prejudice against minor keys and mixolydian music. There are 15 tracks on this album and only two were in minor keys. So it’s still like getting a full album’s worth of real music.

First, I will go through the line-up of musicians.  Ronnie McCoury is on mandolin; so far, that smells like bluegrass to me. T-Bone Burnett, who also plays bass, along with Dennis Crouch, produced this album. You can’t go wrong with any pickin’ musician who names himself after a steak, to wit, Chuck Berry; also, Flank Wakefield is still very popular in Japan. The disc that I received for the review was pre-publication and it did not have complete liner notes.  However, it did come with a press release that said T-Bone put together a backing band for Willie made up of the same musicians who performed on Raising Sand, the 2009 Grammy award winning Album of the Year by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. So that would mean it is Alison Krauss who plays the fiddle. Pedal steel is not usually a bluegrass instrument, but it is on this album!   Pedal steel fits very well, and takes the place of a resonator guitar. So get to the point, Zorro.

Now, let’s look at the songs, not necessarily alphabetically as they would appear in an index, but in the order they appear on the record.

Most of the songs, except the aforementioned two in a minor key, all follow the basic “country” 1-4-5 chord progression, with a generous helping of some 1-2-5 runs thrown in to keep it interesting.

“Man with the Blues”

“Man with the Blues” is a great kick off. Forget your ear buds, iPod® fans. You have to listen to this CD on a full-size audio system, and turn on the “loudness” switch. The bass on this album has to be felt, and it is like a course in bluegrass bass playing. It goes from simple, to rock-a-billy, to lead melody. Just pay attention to the runs and fills. If you can get these, you can handle bass on any gig.

“Seaman’s Blues,” (I always thought this song was called “Goin’ Back to Texas”) is an Ernest Tubb number from the 40’s. “Dark as a Dungeon,” very traditional, but again, follow the bass. There is an additional verse in here that I had never heard before. Maybe I did hear it before, but I don’t remember. The pedal steel comes in later in the song, as does harmonica.

“Gotta’ Walk Alone,” is a beautiful swaying shuffle by Bob Wills, with a nice 1-4-5 chord structure with the 1-2-5-1 turnaround. Nice! Really nice!

“Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down.” Oops. I couldn’t get through this almost a cappella, minor gospel. There’s a banjo in the background. Plus, I’m not so sure I agree with the message. Let’s just leave it at that.

“My Baby’s Gone,” a Louvin Brothers number from 1960, features Willie’s signature syncopated phrasing with the words about a half-beat in front of the lyrics. The melody soon follows. This is one of the best versions I have heard of this song. Fiddle and pedal steel really compliment each other on this one.

“Freight Train Boogie.” Gotta have a boogie. Again, the bass comes through with the slap boogie beat; keeping this one right on track, no pun intended. “A Satisfied Mind” is a Porter(house) Wagoner 1955 number one hit; it’s track number 8 on this album. There’s that meat thing coming up again.

“You Done Me Wrong,” a Ray Price shuffle. There is no such thing as a bad shuffle, and this is a good one. This one is pure traditional hillbilly, more classic country, but also could be classic bluegrass with a dobro instead of the pedal steel and an acoustic instead of the electric guitar.  And, the bass is there.

How did Willie know that “Pistol Packin’ Mama” was my very first 78 rpm record from way back when in 1943?  Anyway, Willie actually mentions Al Dexter’s name in the song, as did Al himself. The bass playing on this is amazing, like playing bass lead. Good harp, too.

“Oceans of Diamonds” (from the Celtic, “Oceans O’ Diamonds”) is a classic bluegrass song, and it is done in a traditional manner, while “Drinking Champagne” sounds like a lounge number that should have been on Willie’s “Stardust.”  I’m not sure how it ended up in here, but this one is definitely not bluegrass.

“I Am A Pilgrim” gets extra points from me, as it is taken from my favorite album of all time, the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo.  While this is a stellar performance, it cannot top the original.

“House Of Gold” is a Hank Williams number. This one is kind of gospel, and/but it’s good. More on the “Satisfied Mind” theme. Guess you can’t have it all.

“Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is the other song from the minor leagues. But in fairness, I couldn’t make it through the whole song.

I have been to Willie concerts where women actually take off their shirts and scream “Willllllliiiiiiiieeeeee!”  My shirt’s off to Willie. With over 200 albums to Willie’s credit, this one sets a new altitude record for a bio-diesel bus (or a record high while one is in a bio-diesel bus). Rock on, Willie!

Rounder Records

What’s the difference between a professional bluegrass musician and a large pizza?  (Scroll Down)

Answer: A large pizza can feed a family of four.

Steve Lipton

The Yard Sale Weasel is the alter ego of an anti-Trump administration agenda passive/activist super hero. He abhors minor key music, but will tolerate an occasional minor chord in the appropriate context, particularly in certain Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers or Emmylou Harris albums from 1968. He has spent many years scavenging flea markets and yard sales for musical instruments, guitar and bass amplifiers, vintage stereo equipment, and assorted related paraphernalia. His attic and basement contain a treasure trove of such equipment that would embarrass a clinically diagnosed hoarder.

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