Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Willie Nelson: Night and Day [Pedernales/FreeFalls, 1999]
In the Nashville era, country instrumental albums have been models of dexterous precision and dispatch dominated by the sterile expanses of the Chet Atkins catalogue, a tradition that shares as much with this gift from God as Nelson's singing does with Brooks & Dunn's. Even simpatico analogies--early string bands, the looser Western swing units, the relaxation Merle Haggard's guys go for, or for that matter Django Reinhardt--don't suggest the casual musicality this long-running off-and-on octet achieves without apparent effort every time it sits down, which happens 150 nights a year. Musicians for life who've achieved a satori that barely skirts virtuosity, they adore the melody. But they adore it after their own fashion, which is Willie's fashion whether he's singing or, as here, only playing lead guitar--pretty much on the note when you listen up, only you don't because the timbre and phrasing are so talky. Is this a species of jazz? Given the awkwardness of the session Nelson once cut with jazz-identified Nashvillian Jackie King, I wouldn't bother calling it that. It's just Willie, who wants folks to think everything he does is simpler than it is and in some mystical sense may be right. A