Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Willie Nelson: Phases and Stages [Atlantic, 1974]
Although the musical concept-theme that pops up here and there is unnecessarily explicit, the songs more than justify it. On the woman's side of the breakup, try "Washing the Dishes" (soap gets in your eyes) or "Sister's Coming Home"/"Down at the Corner Beer Joint" (going home to mother as non-joke); on the man's, "It's Not Supposed to Be That Way" (but it is) and "Pick Up the Tempo" (on the rebound). What's more, Nelson's combination of soft-spoken off-key and battered honky-tonk matches the bare, responsive country music Jerry Wexler has gotten out of the Muscle Shoals regulars. Payoff: the two Mike Lewis string arrangements are actually climactic. A-