Willie back on track with ‘It Will Always Be’
Late-season odds and ends from the ever-growing stack of neglected CDs:Willie Nelson, “It Always Will be”produced by James Stroud (Lost Highway)For reasons maybe best left unexamined, Willie Nelson has become the king of the guest-artist album. For the most part, it has resulted in CDs that have plenty of star power and make little artistic sense, as Nelson has bent his natural strengths to accommodate duets with Kid Rock, Matchbox 20 and Jon Bon Jovi.Willie doesn’t quite kick the habit on “It Will Always Be,” but he does rein it in. The small smattering of guests here – Lucinda Williams, Nora Jones and sister Paula Nelson – all make sense. And the result, not surprisingly, is a wonderful addition to the Nelson catalog. “Dreams Come True” is touching cowboy jazz with Nelson’s and Jones’ voices coming together splendidly; “Overtime,” with Williams, matches two of the great rough-hewn voices of our time. Willie is just as good with his sister Paula on “Be That As It May.” And even without help, as on “Picture in a Frame,” he can hold up a song just fine.
Various artists, “Under the Influence: A Jam Band Tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd”(Sanctuary)From the opening notes of Les Claypool’s outer-limits funk version of “Call Me the Breeze,” you know that the safe Southern road isn’t going to be taken on “Under the Influence.” From the pairing of rockers moe. and roots singer John Hiatt on “The Ballad of Curtis Loew” to Galactic’s techno-funk take on “Saturday Night Special,” the imagination is turned up to 10, making this one of the best tributes collections yet. Even a hard-to-interpret classic of classics like “Sweet Home Alabama” is handled well by Big Head Todd and the Monsters. As for that other monster classic, well, Blues Traveler at least gives it a go to reinvent “Free Bird.”One question: How could “Tuesday’s Gone” go uncovered?Mofro, “Lochloosa”produced by Dan Prothero (Swampland Records)Southern soul-jam duo Mofro is guided by the credo that slower is better, and it sure works for them on their second CD, “Lochloosa.” Singer JJ Grey and slide guitarist Daryl Hance, backed by a full band here, make the kind of thick Delta sounds that go over best when they don’t move by too fast. It’s hard to call these slow-moving soul-blues tunes “jams,” but there is a jam sensibility to their looseness.
Kieran Kane & Kevin Welch”You Can’t Save Everybody”(Compass)Kieran Kane and Kevin Welch, a pair of singer/songwriter/string aces, make Gothic acoustic music on “You Can’t Save Everybody.” Working with fiddles, mandolins, banjos and acoustic guitars – but going nowhere near the upbeat language and rhythm of bluegrass – the two spin an ominous landscape with songs like “Jersey Devil,” “Till I’m Too Old to Die Young” and the title song. While most of the album suggests a long ago, rural age, “Everybody’s Working For the Man Again” name-checks an indisputably up-to-date institution: Halliburton and other bigger-than-huge, corrupt moneymaking machines.
Bebel Gilberto, “Bebel Gilberto”produced by Marius de Vries and others (Ziriguiboom/Six Degrees)Young Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto, accompanied by producer Marius de Vries, updates the South American sound on her second album. “Bebel Gilberto” features the singer’s breathlessly sweet voice over a gentle confection of percussion, synthesizers, strings and more, with one song more romantic than the next.Various artists, “Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon”(Artemis Records)Another uncommonly good tribute album is the wonderfully titled “Enjoy Every Sandwich,” featuring the songs of the late Warren Zevon. (If memory serves well, the title refers to the life lessons learned by the off-kilter songwriter from his bout with cancer.) The range of artists lined up to honor Zevon is huge, from classic rockers (Bruce Springsteen on “My Ride’s Here,” Bob Dylan on “Mutineer”), punks (the Pixies handling the appropriate “Ain’t That Pretty At All”), the young set (Jill Sobule, “Don’t Let Us Get Sick”; The Wallflowers, “Lawyers, Guns & Money”) and even actors (Billy Bob Thornton, “The Wind,” Adam Sandler’s not-bad but not-funny-enough “Werewolves of London”). Clocking in with the best Zevon tribute is Don Henley, who gives “Searching for a Heart” an affecting poignancy.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com