Review: Willie Nelson — 'Remember Me, Vol. 1'
Remember Me, Vol. 1
Not unlike its predecessor, 2010's Country Music [Rounder], Remember Me, Vol. 1 [R&J] finds Willie Nelson paying tribute to a who's who of country music tunesmiths.
The difference is, while Country Music was Nelson's take on the genre's tried-and-true standards, Remember Me is an unapologetic tribute album; Nelson is tipping his hat to his heroes and friends, including Merle Haggard, George Jones, Hank Snow, Tex Williams, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Travis.
The album opens with "Remember Me (I'm the One Who Loves You)," a slow, swaying honky-tonk ballad. Quickly changing gears, Willie follows it up with Travis' laboring blues classic, "Sixteen Tons." This swift change of tone and feel pervades the album,and It feels a bit jarring. Depending on your mood, you might find heavy use of the skip button on your music player necessary.
The songs benefit from top-notch performances. Nelson, perhaps the quintessential country music songwriter, can afford to surround himself with Nashville's finest. Much of the album's finer moments are hand-delivered by ace session guitarist Brent Mason, steel guitarist Sonny Garrish, acoustic guitarist Biff Watson and mandolin and fiddle player Aubrey Haynes. Watson's dazzling picking can be heard sprinkled throughout "This Old House," along with Mason's speedy electric lead lines. On "Sixteen Tons," Mason demonstrates a blues technique that would frustrate even the most adamant rock guitarist, who'll probably be hitting pause/playback each time Mason effortlessly blows in and elegantly bows out again.
The album satisfies with its exemplary performances, proving that sometimes all a great band needs are great ingredients. The only chink in the armor is Nelson himself. Guitar playing notwithstanding, Nelson's vocals sound benign on uptempo tracks like "Smoke, Smoke Smoke (That Cigarette)" and "Roly Poly." The mild voice made in country/western heaven lends itself well to the ballads on Remember Me but is otherwise overshadowed by the deft skills of Mason and Garrish.
Fans of Nelson will appreciate the eclectic mix of covers on Remember Me, Vol. 1, but the dryness in Nelson's voice is bound to leave more than a few listeners cold. The album can stand on its own, thanks to its fine musicianship, but those looking for an authentic and animated Nelson performance will be disappointed.
"Remember Me (I'm the One Who Loves You)," "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down"
"Why Baby Why," "Roly Poly," "This Old House"
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