Willie Nelson
" Willie Nelson Wynton Marsalis with Norah Jones Play The Music of Ray Charles "
Spinnaker Media

Blueswax 3
Rating 4

Your Classic Train-Wreck, (11/26/09)

Right off the bat, strike one, no liner notes! Why is this such a difficult chore? Okay, I'm settled down now! Yes, this video is gorgeous. The audio is also flawless. Once again we have the unlikely pairing of Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis, this time covering the music of the genius Brother Ray, with Norah Jones recorded in New York City at Lincoln Center in February of 2009. First up, it's "Hallelujah, I Love Her So." Willie's in fine vocal form, the band is grooving. Willie takes a jazzy guitar solo, Wynton counters, and instantaneously it's Blues meets county with a major dose of jazz, and it works. Norah Jones joins in with "You Are My Sunshine" where Willie seems to struggle vocally. We have to wait a bit for Norah, but once her vocals commence, she delivers the goods. Then, Wynton takes over, the band responds, there's no doubt that this is a jazz segment, and it's hip! Willie's harp player Mickey Raphael is curious addition, and just does not fit in with this swinging unit.

Norah takes a shot at "Come Rain or Come Shine," and her performance seems uncomfortable. Jones exits, and Willie takes a run at "Unchain My Heart" which also seems rough. The band is doing a lame cha-cha, and somehow I'm figuring Brother Ray ain't smiling from up above. Willie and Nora attempt a duo take of "Cryin Time," and I agree. Ouch! Willie fails with "Losing Hand," and my remote starts to get a fast-forward workout.

I figure a big test is "Hit the Road Jack," and it's awful. Norah's back and offers no assistance, Willie's out to lunch, and what's worse is that Wynton and other band members try to help with background vocals. Next! "I'm Moving On" follows, and so do I and my remote. "Busted" suffers as well and becomes horrific when Marsalis who is not known for his vocals duets with a still struggling Nelson. Norah tries her best with "You Don't Know Me"and just does not possess the needed passion and soul, and similarly fails with "Here We Go Again," and "Making Whoopee."

"I Love You So Much (It Hurts)" does. Now, I am curious how "What'd I Say" would work, and for the most part it does. The band does a fairly lengthy instrumental intro, Willie sounds more relaxed, as does Ms. Jones. Even Marsalis gets a marginal passing grade with his vocal, and the three trade off vocal chores. It's significant to note this is one of the few times that the audience is noticeable with applause. Last tune "That's All" Willie states that they usually walk off for the typical encore routine, goes on to say that they'd tried that once and, when they came back, the audience was gone! I understand, as I am sure I would have been heading for the doors long before the finale. But in all fairness, "That's All" ain't so bad, mainly because the band is cooking, and stretches out a bit.

But wait, that's not all. There are bonus feature tracks, a mix of performances, rehearsals and commentary by Nelson, Jones, Marsalis and other affiliated producers that offer nothing memorable. It's full of bull, too, as the intent is to sell us that this collaborative train-wreck works. Not! I know the recording business is hurting, and the pairing of various styles and star-power hopes to sell additional recordings, but this is not it. Furthermore; no one looks comfortable here, not even the audience. Last but not least; I'm told that this video will also become a 2010 Blue Note CD, don't get excited.

Bob Putignano a senior contributing editor at FolkWax. He is also the heart of Sounds of Blues at www.SoundsofBlue.com. Bob maybe contacted at: bob8003@yahoo.com

Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com