After the success of Two Men With the Blues (Blue Note, 2008), Here We Go Again: Celebrating the Genius of Ray Charles is a welcome inevitability. The addition of the like-minded Norah Jones to the mix is just gravy, properly augmenting a Ray Charles tribute.
TWO MEN WITH THE BLUES brings out both the jazziness that's long been a key element of Willie Nelson's sound (his standards album, STARDUST, remains one of his most acclaimed efforts) and the New Orleans-tinged, Louis Armstrong-esque bluesiness that's at the core of almost everything Wynton Marsalis has ever done (not counting that classical album!). Marsalis blows blistering, gutsy solos on Nelson's own classic tune "Night Life," and Willie sounds completely at home delivering a low-key version of the New Orleans jazz standard "Basin Street Blues." A version of the Ray Charles signature song "Georgia on My Mind" highlights the jazz-savvy chordal movement and country/blues base of the timeless composition. TWO MEN WITH THE BLUES is a successful sonic summit meeting, but the two camps represented were never truly that far apart to begin with.
The genius of their first special was how it favored neither man's immediate, obvious specialty: Nelson is, of course, a country music icon, while Marsalis is one of the nation's foremost jazzmen, but for that show, they met in the middle and played some blues. This time, in taking on the Charles songbook, they allow themselves to hopscotch all over the melodic map, as he did. Charles was, of course, the "genius of soul," but he was also a musical journeyman who experimented in pop, blues, jazz, and country (most famously on his classic Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music albums). And they don't restrict themselves to Charles' own compositions, just songs he performed throughout his career.
Willie Nelson has been a prolific singer and recording artist since the 1970s, but the songwriter who penned hits for Ray Price, Patsy Cline, Billy Walker, and Johnny Cash, among others, hasn't issued an album of predominantly original material since 1996. Band of Brothers ends the drought. Its 14 selections include nine new songs by Nelson (with producer Buddy Cannon) and a handful of fine covers. Opener "Bring It On" is a honky tonk waltz that offers wisdom by someone who has lived through plenty as he looks eternity squarely in the eye. He is in excellent voice as Mickey Raphael's harmonica moans to underscore his lyric. Nelson delivers his first guitar solo on Trigger (his nylon-stringed instrument). His playing, with its unique phrasing, has always been underrated and here it evokes the blues. His love songs have always been highlights in his catalog. "I Thought I Left You" is in 4/4, with a slow processional pace adorned with slippery steel and piano. The lost romance portrayed in the waltz "Send Me a Picture" is another clear standout; a sighing pedal steel and Raphael's mid-register wail echo every sung line.
This double-disc set is cross-licensed to include key tracks from 40 years of recording! Includes Night Life; Hello Walls; Me and Paul; Bloody Mary Morning; Funny How Time Slips Away; Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain; On the Road Again; If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time; Georgia on My Mind; My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys; Always on My Mind; Pancho and Lefty; Highwayman, and more. 41 tracks!