Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Willie Nelson: A Horse Called Music [Columbia, 1989]
Over the four or five albums of a commercial decline that's probably permanent, he's proven more George Jones than Merle Haggard. That is, he's a genius interpreter who always stands a chance of hitting you where you live--even though, like Merle, he still occasionally writes his own, and because of rather than despite the show of laziness the two share. Assuming you can stomach many strings and two pretentious clinkers (the title trope plus one called "If I Were a Painting"), this is his best of the period, maybe because he put the least effort into it--it's when he tries to sing powerfully, or traffics in concepts like the '50s standards of What a Wonderful World, that he flounders. Sometimes, of course, his modest efforts come across flat; sometimes, no doubt, they really are lazy. But most of these murmured tributes to good love getting better and gone bad are touching and apt. B