Consumer Guide Album
Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel: Willie and the Wheel [Bismeaux, 2009]
Every once in a while Nelson nails a fluke--kiddie album, Hank Snow stopover, sop to his road band. It's the big concepts that fall slightly flat--we're lucky American Classic is as lively as it is. This one falls in between. Three decades ago the late great Jerry Wexler, who signed Nelson to historically R&B Atlantic in 1973 and got Phases and Stages as a reward, came up with the grand scheme of pairing the subliminally jazzy Nelson with the world's greatest Western swing revival band. Only by now Asleep at the Wheel, though in need as always of distinctive vocals and material, has been on the road as long as Bob Wills himself. Enter Wexler's song list and one of the greatest singers alive. Western swing is so rowdy and lighthearted that its chestnuts lack the serious sophistication of great American songbook fare. But they sure are spry, and Nelson is so delighted to be singing them that the band's expertise lights up. Fact is, this compares favorably to Wills' Tiffany Transcriptions box. Fact is, Wills never had a singer in Willie's class either.