Review – Willie Nelson: Moment of Forever (Lost Highway) 01.29.08

Willie’s collaboration with the likes of Kid Rock, Toby Keith, Sheryl Crow, Julio Iglesias, as well as upcoming work with Ashley “Cowboys Crusher” Simpson and Beyoncé seems to attest to some kind of professional gregariousness. It’s appears as if the man will collaborate with most anyone who bothers to ask no matter how unworthy and that his most consistent flaw professionally is that he see no flaws in his collaborators.

My read on these collaborations are that they are shrewd moves to expand his fan-base, his status as Country musics’ elder statesman and his pocket book. Yeah, Willie is crazy like a red-headed fox. Making great music might have been a secondary reason for these collaborations, but not the primary motivation. This brings me to Willie’s most recent release “Moment of Forever” (Lost Highway – 01.29.08) which is a collaberation with Kenny Chesney and Buddy Cannon producing. Sure Willie may have his eye on the mega-selling stardom Chesney attains in his own career but it’s also resulted in one of the more consistently good releases his done in a long while.

The album starts with the production aping a Daniel Lanois’ aural hall of mirrors in outer space vibe. Whether Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball, U2’s Joshua Tree of Willie’s own Teatro, Lanois ia a master of echoey-atmosphere. This Willie penned cut strikes the right balance of forlornness and fortitude with his singular guitar work given its due. But given the obviously derived production I’m left wondering what would it might have sounded like if the real Daniel Lanois had been at the helm.

The Kris Kristofferson/Danny Timms penned title song is a pure delight. The accompaniment adds just the right mix, especially with the help of Willie’s sister and long-time band member Bobby on piano. “The Bob Song’ was written by Big Kenny of Big and Rich fame. I can imagine Big Kenny bringing his big goof sensibilities and channeling Kenny Chesney’s hillbilly Jimmy Buffet-beach comber vibe and sitting on the beach, drinking a bottle of tequila and writing this. As of yet I have not consumed enough tequila to enjoy this silly, painful song. I actual cringe when I listen to it. (With this song and “Bob” from the Drive By Truckers “Brighter Than Creations Dark”, what is it with sudden bumper-crop of crappy songs with Bob in the title?)

“Louisiana” is a Randy Newman penned song originally titled “Louisiana 1927” and released on his 1974 album “Good ‘Ol Boys.” Newman wrote the song about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 but it can easily can be used as historical allegory to the recent Katrina flood tragedy. The lyrics have been changed in the version Willie sings to update the story and make the meaning completely contemporary. “The president came down in his big airplane, with his little fat man with a note pad in his hand. President says Fat man, oh isn’t it a shame, What the river has done to this poor farmer’s land?”

Farm Aid comrade Dave Mathews wrote “Gravedigger” for his solo release and this cut may very well do for Willie what Trent Reznor’s Hurt” did for Johnny Cash. Willie bring gravity to the song. It’s contemporary and timeless at once and fits Willie’s darker material like a well-worn boot. “Keep Me From Blowing Away,” written by Paul Craft and just a great waltz with the always expressive Mickey Raphael’s harmonica and Willie’s uniques guitar work on his beloved Trigger. “Takin’ on Water” finds Willie getting a little funky complete with horns.

“Always Now” is a classic Willie penned tear-jerker and sound great, with a Tejano-sounding accordion that adds the right spice. Unfortunately there is a Caribbean-sounding steel-drum in the arrangement, I blame it on Chesney still looking for his lost shaker of salt. The Chesney penned “I’m Alive” is a surprisingly smokey-pop piece. It sounds likes the Burt Bacharach cut Dusty Springfield neglected when recording “Dusty in Memphis.” I believe this is my favorite cut on the album. Damn you Kenny Chesney, DAMN YOU!

“When I Was Young And Grandma Wasn’t Old” is a Buddy Cannon piece that sets a Texas scene that is as walks the like between cliched and sublime and come up in spades. “Worry B Gone” was written by the masterful Guy Clark and is a duet with Chesney is a genuine feeling front-porch ditty. At one point Willie replaces “sip” with “puff” in the line “Just give me one more sip of that Worry B Gone.” Classic! “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore” is Willie writing a song to be being goofy and still it still comes off like it’s made for the ages. “Gotta Serve Somebody” is the classic Bob Dylan tune served up here with slinky-as-funk Memphis-style horns.

I wanted to hate this album, I really, really did. I mean you have the country-beach-comber Kenny Chesney co-producing how could it be good? But good it is. Good, damn good, not great. People looking for the next Phases and Stages, Spirit or Red-Headed Stranger are going to be somewhat disappointed, but given some of the major missteps in Willie’s long career (“Countryman” anyone?) I believe I’ll just breath a sigh of relief and kick back for one more listen.

I was going to embed the video for “Gravedigger” but Universal Music has had YouTube disable embedding for it. Hey idiots, it’s called free publicity!

7 thoughts on “Review – Willie Nelson: Moment of Forever (Lost Highway) 01.29.08

  1. January 27, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    You can’t forget Rascal Flatt’s “Bob That Head” from last year in the list of horrible Bob songs.

    As for “Gravedigger”, I don’t think it will have nearly the impact that “Hurt” did for Johnny Cash. It’s not an open and personal look at the man and while the video is good, it seems too goofy, for lack of a better word at the moment, to carry the same emotional weight as “Hurt.”

  2. Baron Lane
    January 28, 2008 at 4:31 am

    Hey Brady, Ha! Well, since I rarely inflict myself with RF I wasn’t aware of the “Bob That Head” song, but I do believe bad Bob songs work in threes.

    Willie never has the gravitas “voice of God” Cash effortlessly had. Seems to me Willie makes everything easy-sounding, sort of off-the-cuff. To me that is the sign of a master. Maybe not the same emotional impact certainly but I think that the phrasing in “Gravedigger” fits Willie nicely (It never occurred to me before how much Mathews has that same spoken not sung thing happening) and is a nice update to his sound. We shall see…

  3. January 28, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    Heh, I gave half of the RF album a listen when it came out and “Bob That Head” happened to be in the first half, that’s the only reason I know about it. Did you see the exchange I had with Billy Joe Shaver about it?

  4. Baron Lane
    January 28, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    Ha! Yeah man that was great. That man is funny!

  5. January 30, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    I agree. I wanted to hate this album. But I like it. I don’t like the Bob song and the first song is way over produced but Kenny Chesney or no this is still a good album.

    However it is in spite of the Kenny Chesney not because of. Willie carries the album by being Willie.

  6. January 31, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    Nice review, Baron. I always wondered what went into Willie’s albums, how it’s decided who he will duet with, who will produce his albums, etc. I read that someone said he was a duet whore, he would sing with anyone, but I don’t know if that’s true. For this, I guess manager Mark Rauthbaum really liked the song ‘That Lucky old Sun’ that Willie and Chesney produced, and suggested the project. Maybe folks around Willie think about expanding his fan base, but I don’t know if he does or not. I really like how he mixes things up. Last of the Breed was so traditional, with Ray Price and Merle Haggard, and now this, singing covers that surprise some fans. I think Kenny and Buddy Cannon did a thoughtful job picking the songs, except for the Bob Song. And why all the comparisons to Hurt? Let it go, everyone. I thought that was Bobbie on the piano, too, but it turns out it’s Gary Prim on Pano; randy McCormick on keyboard. Mickey Raphael was the only WN&F artist, besides Willie, on the cd. I like that on the liner notes they didn’t say: Willie Nelson, guitar, but instead: Willie Nelson, Trigger.

    I enjoyed your review; thanks. But unlike you, I really wanted to like it, and I do! Once I found out they weren’t going to sing You Think My Tractor’s Sexy.

  7. Reb
    February 8, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    Guy Clarks song “worry b gone” in not, gimmie a sip, it’s gimmie a hit……

    “Don’t gimmie no shit just gimmie a hit
    I’m smokin’ all day and I can’t get lit
    Don’t gimmie no guff, gimmie a puff
    you know how I love that stuff

    Willie done got soft!!!!!!

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