The Complete Atlantic Sessions
Part Two: Phases and Stages
The Music Box's #3 boxed set of 2006
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2006, Volume 13, #7
Written by John Metzger
Phases and Stages
Not only was Phases and Stages the album that Willie Nelson wanted to make while he was still working in Nashville, but it also contained the suite of songs that landed him his contract with Atlantic Records. Although it forever has been overshadowed by his commercial breakthrough Red Headed Stranger, the endeavor is an equally ambitious affair. Thematically, the subjects of love, loss, and regret had been Nelsonís bread and butter when he was supplying the country music industry with material, but on Phases and Stages, he took his ideas to a cinematic level. In essence, he turned his personal ruminations upon divorce and separation into a groundbreaking, conceptual work that examined a tarnished relationship, first from a womanís perspective and then from a manís point of view.
The story is thus: The wife gets fed up with feeling unappreciated as well as with having to iron her spouseís lipstick-stained shirts. After moving back to her parentsí house, she meets and falls in love with another man, though she continues to question her judgment. Meanwhile, the husband sinks into self-pity before hiding his pain behind a cocky swagger as he returns to work. What could have been a clichť-addled affair, however, is transformed by Nelson into a beautifully poignant glimpse at the dissolution of a relationship. Having had his own share of marital woes, itís understandable as to how perfectly he could capture the emotional essence of the male-oriented side of the debate ó which, from the false joviality of the alcohol-soaked Bloody Mary Morning to the devastation and heartache of I Still Canít Believe Youíre Gone, he does. Yet, whatís surprising is how masterfully his words and music also evoke the female frame of reference. Washing the Dishes, for example, is heavy with sad resignation; Walkiní conveys a mixture of pain and anger; and a pairing of Sisterís Coming Home and Down at the Corner Beer Joint masks sorrow with defiance.
At first glance, itís likely that the appeal of the bonus tracks featured on the latest incarnation of Phases and Stages is limited to Nelsonís biggest fans, especially considering that all ten of them are inferior alternate takes. Given time, however, the sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant differences between them and their previously available counterparts form an intriguing glimpse into his and producer Jerry Wexlerís thought processes during the making of the effort. Nevertheless, it quickly becomes apparent that their final decisions were made wisely. Laced with hints of soul provided by Atlanticís fabled Alabama rhythm section, Phases and Stages not only is the fulfillment of Nelsonís dream, but it also is arguably the finest album of his career.
This is the second installment of a three-part series,
which will examine The Complete Atlantic Sessions album by album.
The entire set is rated: Ĺ
The Complete Atlantic Sessions is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Phases and Stages is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box