One Hell of a Ride
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2008, Volume 15, #9
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Fri September 5, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Everyone loves Willie Nelson. Even the people who donít usually like country music will admit, however begrudgingly, that thereís something particularly appealing about his work. For some, it is Nelsonís outlaw stance, including his unrepentant campaigning for the legalization of marijuana, that serves as the main attraction. Others admire him for his commitment to the environment or for refusing to part with his long hair and his headband. Some folks respect him simply for his work ethic ó he still performs at least 100 shows a year and releases albums at a ridiculous pace.
In other words, it doesnít take long to realize that the whole mythology that has grown around the Texas songwriter has as much to do with Willie Nelson, the icon, as it does with Willie Nelson, the musician and songwriter. One Hell of a Ride, a four-disc retrospective, goes a long way toward bringing perspective back to Nelsonís canon. Over the course of more than 100 songs, the collection highlights the many facets of his career, while quietly asserting what millions of Nelsonís fans already know: For all of his missteps and questionable, middle-of-the-road releases, there is no one else quite like him.
Other than a pair of wonderful, unaccompanied demos that were recorded in the 1950s (When Iíve Sung My Last Hillbilly Song and No Place for Me), One Hell of a Ride isnít filled with unreleased songs, alternate takes, and live versions of Nelsonís classics. As a result, the boxed set isnít likely to hold much appeal for serious collectors. The booklet that accompanies the endeavor hints that Nelson has more than 1,000 unreleased tunes in the can, and fans likely will have the chance to hear at least a few of them before long. One Hell of a Ride, though, was constructed carefully by selecting one or two representative tracks from each of Nelsonís albums in order to highlight his growth and development as an artist.
By tracing a line from early hits like Crazy, Nite Life, and Funny How Time Slips Away ó where Nelson first demonstrated his unconventional jazz phrasing ó to The Harder They Come from his unusual and oft-delayed reggae album Countryman, a portrait emerges of a singer, songwriter, and guitarist who lives to perform in any setting that is made available to him. Fans may quibble about some of the song selections. For example, a few more tunes from Teatro, Nelsonís stellar collaboration with Daniel Lanois and Emmylou Harris would have been preferable to his duets with Julio Iglesias and Leon Russell. Overall, however, the choices that were made by Al Quaglieri, the compilationís executive producer, are judicious and evenhanded. Certainly, the challenges posed in whittling down material from an artist who has been as prolific as Nelson must have been formidable.
In the end, One Hell of a Ride is a worthy compilation. The remastering of the original tracks is pristine, and all of the selections sound terrific. The running order of the songs carefully balances chronology and musical flow in order to provide the best possible experience for the listener. The liner notes include a fascinating introduction by Mickey Raphael, Nelsonís longtime harmonica player, as well as an essay by veteran country music journalist Joe Nick Patoski. Taken together, they serve as an admirable overview of Nelsonís esteemed career. One Hell of a Ride is attractively packaged and reasonably priced, making it the best synopsis of his work to date. Consequently, it is the perfect mechanism for introducing Nelson to the uninitiated, and it is a savvy reminder of the tremendous stylistic range this living treasure has explored. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
One Hell of a Ride is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box