Album: Live and Kickin'

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Album:

Live and Kickin'

Artist: Willie Nelson, Various Artists
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Label: Lost Highway

The great Willie Nelson tends to either thrill or sorely disappoint, depending on the kinds of projects he takes on—and his decision to be either a musician or a celebrity. This live recording, culled from his 2003 USA Network concert event, unfortunately falls into the latter category, and Nelson sounds as if he arrived just before show time and plunged in without rehearsing. On the album’s opener, “I Didn’t Come Here (And I Ain’t Leavin’),” almost everything is wrong—the chorines, the overwhelming bigness of the production, and most troublesome, Nelson’s…

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The great Willie Nelson tends to either thrill or sorely disappoint, depending on the kinds of projects he takes on—and his decision to be either a musician or a celebrity. This live recording, culled from his 2003 USA Network concert event, unfortunately falls into the latter category, and Nelson sounds as if he arrived just before show time and plunged in without rehearsing. On the album’s opener, “I Didn’t Come Here (And I Ain’t Leavin’),” almost everything is wrong—the chorines, the overwhelming bigness of the production, and most troublesome, Nelson’s apparent indifference. Thereafter, the program pairs him with such natural duet partners as Toby Keith and Ray Price, and such utterly unfathomable ones as Steven Tyler and Wyclef Jean, who prove, by turns, unlistenable and insufferable. While Diana Krall and Elvis Costello help give “Crazy” an odd and new kind of charm, Nelson’s off-beat phrasing is just to quirky to work with Paul Simon’s laconic musings (“Homeward Bound”), while the outing with Ray Charles and Leon Russell (“A Song for You”) sounds like a cat-drowning ceremony. Weirdly, the best songs are those on which Nelson simply gets out of the way (John Mellencamp’s bottleneck romp through “I Couldn’t Believe It Was True,” Kenny Chesney’s soulful treatment of “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning”). Thank God it’s only a single disc. —Alanna Nash

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