Willie Nelson,
(Lost Highway, 2006)

Countryman finds Willie Nelson marrying his world-weary vocals and country sounds with colourful reggae rhythms.

Opening with "Do You Mind Too Much If I Don't Understand," Nelson is in good voice, and the lamenting pedal steel ensures that you are reminded of Nelson's country credentials. Layered underneath this are gentle reggae rhythms and some rather cloying harmony vocals. I'm not sure that it works really -- the reggae aspect sounds very much like an appendage or an afterthought, and Nelson has always been one of those artists where less is often more. The same can be said of "How Long Is Forever," opening with a sublime pedal steel flourish, offering the promise of a delicious slow-burn country standard -- then the reggae bits kick in and to be honest it fails to deliver on its initial promise.

There are however aspects that sparkle, where the combination works much better. Nelson sounds like he's having great fun singing a duet on "I'm a Worried Man," and the balance is tipped firmly in the favour of Nelson's trademark country sound on "The Harder They Come" with the dobro taking centre stage over a more subtle reggae presence. Elsewhere, "Darkness on the Face of the Earth" loses none of its sombre potential with the reggae beats pulsating gently throughout.

It's not a bad album altogether -- it starts to sound a bit "samey" after a while, but Nelson's vocals never miss a beat and the reggae aspects are little more than an unwelcome distraction. It's just not my favoured setting in which to listen to Willie Nelson.

review by
Mike Wilson

15 March 2008

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