Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel

Willie and the Wheel (Bismeaux)

Texas Platters

Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel

Willie and the Wheel (Bismeaux)

These days Willie Nelson will duet with anyone who can roll a joint properly or promises to patronize his Carl's Corner. The local country icon's long-awaited Western swing collaboration with Austin's Asleep at the Wheel is a different tale altogether. Atlantic Records titan Jerry Wexler originally hand-selected material for a proposed swing album during the Red Headed Stranger's brief tenure on the label in the 1970s and then revived the idea shortly before his death last year. The resulting Willie and the Wheel is exactly what one would expect from such a musical brain trust: an old-fashioned good time with expert instrumentalism. If anything, the disc could use more dirt under its fingernails, as everything comes a bit too easy, especially the Bennie Moten instrumental "South" and traditional "Oh! You Pretty Woman." Nevertheless, for Nelson this represents a return to his early roots with Bud Fletcher & the Texans, his crooked vocal phrasing countering the Wheel's rigid professionalism perfectly, particularly on "Right or Wrong," while the singer's crooning swagger personifies the subject in his duet with Wheel house mistress Elizabeth McQueen via "I'm Sittin' on Top of the World." Of course, there are a few selections from the Bob Wills' handbook ("Bring It on Down to My House," "Corrine Corrina"), but the real draw is the Dixieland swing of rambunctious kickoff "Hesitation Blues" and the dusty sway of "Fan It," as confident and casual as a Saturday night at the Broken Spoke.

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