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!

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