Willie Nelson

Songbird (Lost Highway)

Texas Platters

Willie Nelson

Songbird (Lost Highway)

Leave it to Willie. Not many legends would follow one of their best albums, You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker, released in March, with one of their worst. Songbird might have sounded like a good idea through a late-night tour bus haze shared with producer and labelmate Ryan Adams, but the execution is another thing altogether. That odor is so obvious that one can almost smell the clouds of pungent smoke hanging over the studio on lackadaisical opener "Rainy Day Blues." While the album has Willie Nelson's name on it, and he's the singer, Songbird has more of Adams' fingerprints on it than anyone else's. His band, the Cardinals, provides sturdy, if unspectacular, backup on often-confused arrangements. Then there's the contemporary song selection, which falls in line with the rocker's sensibilities: the Grateful Dead's "Stella Blue," Gram Parsons' "$1000 Wedding," and the Stevie Nicks title track, for example. Nelson gives it his all, or what's left of him, on Adams' "Blue Hotel," a gospel-tinged dirge, and a convincing take on Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Yet even if music history notes that Willie could sing the phone book and make it interesting, Songbird proves that's not true.

**

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