Shot Of Rhythm

[ Thursday, June 22, 2006 ]



Rhino's remarkable new set of Willie Nelson's complete Atlantic recordings, comprising the two classic albums he made for the label (SHOTGUN WILLIE and PHASES AND STAGES), along with related studio stuff (some unreleased) and a fiery live performance from Texas in 1974, is a revelation. Not so much because of the material, which is fantastic, but not entirely unappreciated. (After all, few Willie fans deny that the two albums he made under Jerry Wexler's supervision are among the very best of a very long career.) What is more revelatory about this box is simply the restated recognition of just how beautifully eccentric Willie's work was during this period, symbolizing both the visionary promise of the "Outlaw" country movement and the wide-ranging appreciation of musical genre and artistry that Willie learned while working in Nashville. (Remember, despite what many in the "Outlaw" camp think, the first country people to discover the soul players in Memphis and Muscle Shoals were the very Nashville establishment - Bradley, Atkins, Killen - that the Outlaws aimed to oppose. Then there's the fact that so many important Nashville players and producers of the period - from Billy Sherrill on down - were born and bred in "the Shoals.")

So, the inventive spirit of Willie Nelson's Atlantic work is the work's overriding characteristic, and Willie made room under his wide, smoky umbrella for seemingly every musical background and idea. I've picked four tracks from the two albums, all of which - as I'll discuss below - capture this miscegenated moment of American musical innovation.

-First is the title track from the first album, which - with its lyrical irreverence and musical drive - announced that Willie, and his genre, were about to ring some changes. It's fitting that this song's brass section is the mighty Memphis Horns, who played on literally hundreds of classic soul recordings, and were firmly associated with R&B at this point.

"Shotgun Willie"

-Next is "Stay All Night," an old Bob Wills song that Willie presents as a musical history of Texas, at least on the white side of the fence. Appearing on this track with Nelson are Wills' old associate Johnny Gimble, Doug Sahm and his musical deputy Augie Meyers, plus Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, the first couple of "Outlaw" country. With the perfectly rowdy song as his platform, Nelson leads this ragged choir through a decades-long party of Texas musical gumbo.

"Stay All Night (Stay A Little Longer)"

-The third cut from SHOTGUN WILLIE is "So Much To Do," a beautiful honky-tonk weeper made notable in this regard because of the presence of a Donny Hathaway string arrangement. Any music written or made by the tragic genius is worth celebrating simply for its own sake, but the combination of Nelson's voice/song/band with Hathaway's strings is, if anything, a reminder of just how close the two men's artistry was in the first place.

"So Much To Do"

-The only cut I've got from PHASES AND STAGES (itself a masterpiece, though - IMHO - slight less so than SHOTGUN WILLIE) is "Pretend I've Never Happened," which I somewhat pulled out of a hat, but chose to focus attention here because this cut features a particularly brooding arrangement by the Muscle Shoals Sound, the legendary studio band who were smack in the middle of their storied run as one of the most sought-after session bands in soul, rock and roll, and - increasingly thanks to their success with Willie - country music. The MSS could play it all, from funk and disco to country and pop, and there is no question that Willie was (if only briefly) a fitting muse for the ensemble.

"Pretend I Never Happened"

On the box right now: Various Artists, ATLANTIC UNEARTHED: SOUL SISTERS. Between this comp, its accompanying SOUL BROTHERS disc, and the Willie set, the Atlantic catalog is having a damn good week.


Dove With Claws [3:41 PM]

[ Monday, June 19, 2006 ]



Here are four gospel tracks I've been listening to a lot lately, from albums that have generally recieved a good stretch of attention. The final two songs (Stovall Sisters and Mildred Clark) are from the wonderful SOUL GOSPEL 2 compilation that I spoke of last week.

Say "Amen," somebody...

Rance Allen Group - "Joy"

Washington Phillips - "Lift Him Up, That's All"

Stovall Sisters - "I Come To Praise Him"

Mildred Clark - "Keep Trying"

On the box right now: Carl Perkins and Friends, BLUE SUEDE SHOES: A ROCKABILLY SESSION. CD release of a wonderful 1984 Cinemax special featuring Perkins with George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Rosanne Cash, Eric Clapton, two Stray Cats, and the Dave Edmunds Band. A joyous celebration of rock and roll spirit and perseverance.


Dove With Claws [4:48 PM]