Album Remarks & Appraisals:
The event was simply billed as "Willie Nelson Sings the Blues," but the historic two-night stand on January 12 and 13, 2007 at Jazz at Lincoln Center was far more than that. Call it a summit meeting between two American icons, Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis, two of the most significant figures in modern-day country and jazz, who discovered common ground in their love for jazz standards and the blues. Their performance stirred the sounds of New Orleans, Nashville, Austin and New York City into a brilliantly programmed mix that was equal parts down-home and cosmopolitan, with plenty of swing and just a touch of melancholy. To say that these shows were a hot ticket would be an understatement. Luckily, the tapes were rolling and the results of this unique collaboration now constitute the Blue Note album Two Men With The Blues for everyone who couldn't cram into The Allen Room. Featuring great playing from one of the hottest bands around these classic tracks are given new life by the extraordinary dual talents of Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis. At a time when most people are thinking of retirement, Willie has never been busier. His profile has been high in recent weeks with his various career retrospective releases and sold out tour and this album can rightly stake it's place alongside anything else he has done. Wynton rarely sounds so relaxed and both of these musical giants are clearly having the time of their lives together on these new interpretations of some of the greatest songs of the 20th century.
"In case you missed it, back in 2006 singer and guitarist Willie Nelson - then 73 years young - got busted in Louisiana. Highway police following Nelson's band bus noticed a strong smell of marijuana coming out of the windows, stopped the vehicle and found somewhere between one and a half and two pounds of weed and a bag of magic mushrooms. A US cable TV host reported they also found a jar of formaldehyde containing Waylon Jennings' foot.
Nelson, who made his name in country music, but who for decades has ploughed a wider furrow which also includes blues and a little jazz, and who, even at his advanced age, still hits the road for months at a time, lives a life not unlike the jazz musicians of yesteryear. He also shares jazz musicians' graveyard sense of humor. The other occupants of the bus - variously aged between 75 and 50 years - were all shaken down along with Nelson, except the 75 year old, who slept through the entire event. When he later asked Nelson why the police had let him carry on sleeping, Nelson replied, "I told them you were dead."
The bust gives a general resonance to Two Men With The Blues and in particular to "Ain't Nobody's Business," the penultimate track on this live recording made at the Lincoln Jazz Center's Allen Room with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and his band over two nights in January, 2007.
The music - which mostly inhabits an up-tempo blues 'n' boogie jump band style reaching back to the late 1940s - is the sort of stuff you might hear, if you were lucky, in a roadhouse in the southern states anytime over the past 60 years, albeit played here by musicians of international standing - Marsalis' regular small band augmented by Nelson's harmonica player, Mickey Raphael.
It isn't risk taking music. It's meant to make you kick back and get happy - and it does. Nelson's voice is still in pretty good, smoke-cured shape. It shows a little untoward strain on Hoagy Carmichael's interval-leaping "Stardust," but this is made up for by his reading of Carmichael's equally beauticious "Georgia On My Mind." His guitar playing, in which shades of Django Reinhardt mingle with those of T-Bone Walker, is surprisingly substantial. He solos, briefly and delightfully, on seven of the 10 tracks, and ravishingly on two of them, including his own "Rainy Day Blues." Marsalis and saxophonist Walter Blanding also turn in succinct but attractive solos.
The sort of album which gives one-off supergroup projects a good name." -AllAboutJazz
"What do you get when you pair a certified country music renegade with contemporary jazz's "keeper of the flame"? When the renegade is Willie Nelson and the jazz champion is Wynton Marsalis, the end result is one of the best CDs of 2008.
Two Men With The Blues was recorded during a historic two-night stand on January 12 and 13, 2007 at Lincoln Center's Allen Room in New York and billed as "Willie Nelson Sings The Blues." If this CD is any indication, he sure did. Nelson plays guitar and sings - backed by Marsalis (trumpet), Mickey Raphael (harmonica), Walter Blanding (sax), Ali Jackson (drums), Dan Nimmer (piano) and Carlos Henriquez (bass) - and his twangy voice is in fine form.
Opening the disc with Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights Big City" was a stroke of genius. Nelson's voice and phrasing work perfectly against and in unison with Raphael and Marsalis' solos. Nelson also shines on Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia On My Mind," conveying its subtle, subdued longing as only he can, and "Stardust," with its plucky piano, brushed drums and smoldering trumpet touches. Though to modern audiences these songs have both become better known as Willie Nelson songs, the arrangements here feel closer to the original Carmichael standards than previous Nelson versions.
When the CD ventures into the land of Marsalis' birth, New Orleans, on "Basin Street Blues" it becomes evident that this is more than simply a Willie Nelson CD backed by the Wynton Marsalis group. Marsalis is front and center of the trumpet and harmonica call-and-response, while he metaphorically goes on a tour through the French Quarter. Marsalis also sings on the disc - his laid-back baritone vocals on both "My Bucket's Got A Hole In It" and "Ain't Nobody's Business" add a different dimension to the songs and act as the perfect foil to Nelson's barbs and quips.
The CD is full of surprises. The bouncy, swinging version of "Caldonia," with its serious kick, sounds like it was recorded in a Bourbon Street bar, early on a Saturday night when the band is trying to get the crowd hopping. "That's All" is reworked into a sly jump-blues number straight out of '40s.
Sadly, the CD is only 54 minutes and ten tracks long. Though not on the disc, a version of "Down by The Riverside" is available exclusively on iTunes. Hopefully, since Nelson and Marsalis have played occasional dates across the country, there will be a follow-up CD - or at least a second release featuring the other tracks recorded during these performances.
Visit Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis on the web." -AllAboutJazz
Rolling Stone (p.95) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "[Marsalis] chills out, adding a one-note trumpet solo on 'That's All' that's funny and awesome."
Entertainment Weekly (p.75) - "[T]heir sensibility is New Orleans by way of Texas and Tin Pan Alley -- with Marsalis' usual horn-fronted band doing the driving and Nelson settling in perfectly with his offbeat vocal phrasing."
Down Beat (p.64) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "Marsalis and Nelson have no problem finding common ground....Those familiar with Nelson's work will recognize his longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael..."
JazzTimes - "Marsalis' soloing throughout parses vintage-sounding blues riffs and his naturally probing attitude as a player, seeking out the cerebral blues notes of his personal devising."
Vibe (p.62) - "Impressive without being pretentious, TWO MEN possesses an urbane strut that's perfect for jazzheads -- and their country cousins."
Dirty Linen (pp.44-45) - "Their version of Nelson's 'Night Life' has to be the swankiest ever, especially given Marsalis' breathtaking solos that conjures images of him playing from a wrought iron French Quarter balcony with his horn's bell raised to the stars."
Q (Magazine) (p.140) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "[Nelson is] an ideal interpreter of these 10 old jazz and blues standards made famous by Jimmy Reed, Louis Jordan and more, especially when joined by trumpeter and jazz educationalist Marsalis and band."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.111) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[With] Marsalis interjecting an array of piquant, often inspired solos..."
Blender (Magazine) (p.90) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "A trumpet-anchored jazz combo swings Nelson's smoothness into new directions, and he returns the favor by helping bandleader Wynton Marsalis loosen up..."
Paste (magazine) (p.74) - "[It] feels like a long-overdue summit meeting. These renditions of classics -- including some of Willie's own -- sound completely natural..."
Record Collector (magazine) (p.102) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "Nelson revisits the bluesier elements of his own catalogue....It's Marsalis' album, full of soaring horn flourishes and subtle phrasing..."
Personnel: Willie Nelson (vocals, guitar); Wynton Marsalis (vocals, trumpet); Mickey Raphael (harmonica); Walter Blanding (saxophone); Dan Nimmer (piano); Carlos Henríquez (upright bass); Ali Muhammed Jackson (drums).
Audio Mixers: Delfeayo Marsalis; Jeff Jones .
Audio Remixer: Jeff Jones .
Recording information: 01/12/2007-01/13/2007.
Editor: Jeff Jones .
Photographer: Danny Clinch.
TWO MEN WITH THE BLUES brings out both the jazziness that's long been a key element of Willie Nelson's sound (his standards album, STARDUST, remains one of his most acclaimed efforts) and the New Orleans-tinged, Louis Armstrong-esque bluesiness that's at the core of almost everything Wynton Marsalis has ever done (not counting that classical album!). Marsalis blows blistering, gutsy solos on Nelson's own classic tune "Night Life," and Willie sounds completely at home delivering a low-key version of the New Orleans jazz standard "Basin Street Blues." A version of the Ray Charles signature song "Georgia on My Mind" highlights the jazz-savvy chordal movement and country/blues base of the timeless composition. TWO MEN WITH THE BLUES is a successful sonic summit meeting, but the two camps represented were never truly that far apart to begin with.
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