Willie Nelson has been singing and playing music for 50 years or so and as a fiercely independent spirit, Willie’s often found releasing live albums or singing with other people. For his third release of the year, after the so-so album “Moment of Forever” and a fine Box set, Willie’s back with a new musical partner, Jazz artist Wynton Marsalis, on the new live album “Two Men With the Blues.” Recorded over two days in January of 2007, the album finds Willie Nelson at his best.
One of many people’s criticisms of Nelson over the years is his habit of singing just behind or ahead of the beat but when he’s in a structured musical environment where the music takes the lead; he’s forced to sing on time. That fact alone is enough to make “Two With the Blues” a fantastic album. When you add in stunning musical performances from Marsalis on the Trumpet and the band (which includes long-time Family Band member Mickey Raphael) then what is presented here is nothing but a stunning musical achievement.
Fans of country music might not find “Two With the Blues” to be their cup of tea due to its fierce jazz arrangements (as is evident when one realizes the label issuing the album is Blue Note) but to pass off the record without giving it a chance for that reason alone would be pure lunacy. Willie hasn’t sounded this good on record in many years and his creativity here is a watershed moment in a career of watershed moments. Not one song is better than the other but the instrumental performances on “Night Life” by the whole band are simply stunning. “Georgia On My Mind” and “Stardust” both were classics from Willie’s “Stardust” album and they’re both reprised here to great effect.
“Two With the Blues” is a record packed with brilliant musicianship and it is one of the best albums Willie Nelson has ever been a part of.