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Willie Nelson
Naked Willie
Legacy/RCA Records
www.willienelson.com


It's no secret that Willie Nelson was - and still may be - one of country music's most prolific and greatest writers, especially during the years he resided in Nashville and penned so many great tunes. At the time he was living on music row he was recording and releasing records that contained all the various attachments that Chet Atkins' country-politan movement had made a necessity in music city… the accoutrements of the day included lush string parts and large arrangements that did very little in the way of allowing the song to speak with its own voice. Willie was never a fan of those big sounds, and soon took his writing back to Texas, where he and a close band of friends gave birth to the outlaw country movement.

With Naked Willie, Nelson has gone back to the original tapes of many of those great early 60's songs and stripped away the trappings of the day, revealing clean, well-written songs with his trademark Western flair. Without the strings and large sounds, songs like "Happiness Lives Next Door" are so immediate and intimate that they're almost like brand new songs. Willie's guitar is clean and round, accompanied by bass, drums and piano, all beautifully underpinning his wonderful, tremulous baritone. Jazzy tones and swinging rhythms abound, as on the cool, laid back "Bring Me Sunshine", while syncopated rhythms and grooving basslines fill out such cool tracks as "I'm A Memory". Perhaps where the songs benefit the most from the stripping away of over-production is on such greats as the classic "The Party's Over" and "I Just Dropped By", which attains a soft reflective quality that wasn't apparent on the original version. "Following Me Around" benefits from the simplification more than most, shifting the focus to Nelson's fantastic guitar playing instead of a chorus of non-essential background singers that covered up the simple beauty of the song. It is much easier to see how Johnny Cash found such greatness in "Sunday Morning Coming Down" when hearing Willie play it without all the strings that over-saturated the original mix; this new mix reveals what is so remarkably easy to tell in Cash's version; that this is possibly one of the finest songs ever to come out of the country music camp. "The Local Memory" is another song that demonstrates the keen similarities between Nelson and Cash, as the song progresses from simple acoustic guitar to a nice shuffling band arrangement.

Willie Nelson and Mickey Raphael (Nelson's long-time harmonica player) truly struck gold with the idea to take these songs back their basics. Not one track suffers from the loss of the 1960's Nashville production ethos. Rather, the songs here shine more brightly than ever, revealing brilliance that was more difficult to discern underneath all the glitz and glamour of the age. Willie Nelson should be taken at face value, that is where his soul truly communicates, and Naked Willie brings the soul to the forefront of these fantastic recordings.

-Embo Blake

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