Nelson – For The Good Times/ A Tribute To Ray Price [TrackList follows] – Legacy 8898531241, 40:01 [9/16/16] stereo vinyl, ****:
One country legends pays tribute to another!
(Willie Nelson – acoustic guitar, lead vocals; Vince Gill – acoustic, electric guitar; Andy Reiss – electric guitar; Larry franklin – fiddle; Joe Spivey – fiddle; Kenny Sears – fiddle; Brad Albin – bass; Billy Thomas – drums; Jeff Taylor – piano, accordion; Paul Franklin – pedal steel; Mickey Raphael – harmonica; Jim Horn – saxophone, flute; James Greer – oboe; The Nashville String Machine and many others)
Willie! In country music circles or nearly everywhere else, this one-name icon is universally praised and adored. At eighty-three, he remains active in recording and performing.His first brush with success came in the ‘50s when Patsy Cline recorded his composition, “Crazy”. From there he became a minor country recording artist. But in the early 1970s Willie Nelson became a flashpoint for a new genre, outlaw country. Along with Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Jessi Colter, country music cut loose from the constraints of Nashville. Additionally, Nelson embraced a liberal socio-political agenda that included activism. He founded Farm Aid which exists to this day. Musically, his career soared with hits like “Always On My Mind”, “On The Road Again”, “Pancho and Lefty and “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”. He recorded pop/jazz albums, collaborated with a wide array of performers and became a movie actor. More importantly, the unpredictable singer with his reedy voice and beat-up acoustic guitar became an American icon. His 70th birthday party at Madison Square Garden resembled a Grammy awards end of the evening jam.
Legacy has released the eighty-three year old’s latest album, For The Good Times/A Tribute To Ray Price. Backed by a who’s who of country artists, Nelson pays homage to a fellow country legend. Ironically, Price represented the tightly structured country establishment studio world. Price’s music was concise, and featured a good dose of orchestration. Price recorded a couple of Nelson’s songs that helped sustain his struggling career. Side A opens with some vintage cowboy swing on “Heartaches By The Number”. The anecdotal song features fiddle and pedal steel with some first-rate harmony from Vince Gill. What sells this music is Nelson’s understated vocals. “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)” has a similar arrangement (but more positive lyrics) and showcases layered back-up vocals. Willie is playing authentic “non-outlaw” music”. And “Faded Love” with its lush orchestration drives the point home.
Continuing with the strings, “It Will Always Be’” (the first of two Willie tunes)is an acoustic ballad with vintage country “talking/singing”. Willie’s innate tenderness (and what appears to be his trademark acoustic guitar) sells this one. About two-thirds into the song, there is a jazzy flute interlude. Reverting back to swing, “City Lights” is classic honkytonk. It is reminiscent of Hank Williams’ (who was close to Price) “Your Cheating Heart”. This is pure storytelling, as indicated in the wryly titled, “Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hating Me”.
Side B is loaded with hits. “Make The World Go Away” is quintessential 1960’s. Strings, inspirational vocals and a key modulation frames Nelson’s relaxed vocal style. The album is not afraid to keep ringing this bell either. “I’m Still Not Over You” is equally pained. However on the second Nelson composition, “Night Life” (which Price used as theme music at his gigs), the listener gets something a little different. Blues grooves infiltrate the nimble musical structure, including a saxophone solo. The humor in country music pervades the next two cuts, “Crazy Arms” and “Invitation To The Blues”. Even loneliness can’t thwart life’s romantic disappointments. The title cut finale brings everything together. The hypnotic string and electric piano create a cinematic feel. And when the familiar chorus (“…Lay Your Head On my Pillow…”) ensues, it is a gentle reminder of the accessibility of Ray Price and Willie Nelson.
The overall audio quality of For The Good Times/A Tribute To Ray Price” is very good. The strings and instruments are blended with even textures. Willie’s low-key voice is captured with clarity and stands up to the arrangements. It does not sound like an eighty-three year old. There is a casual vitality to it.
Side A: Heartaches By The Number; I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me); Faded love; It Will Always Be; City Lights; Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me
Side B: Make The World Go Away; I’m Still Not Over You; Night Life; Crazy Arms; Invitation To The Blues; For The Good Times