12 Songs, 35 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Among the most unusual entries in the string of genre experiments Willie Nelson undertook in the 2000s, Countryman contains a juxtaposition of elements that should not cooperate. Dub, reggae and ska versions of country songs, complete with pedal-steel solos and vocals from one of the most wizened voices of the American South? And yet it works. Nelson’s deeply felt but casual singing style is right at home in the world of Jamaican rhythm. There are stellar interpretations of early Nelson songs like “Undo the Right” and “Darkness On the Face of the Earth,” but even better are the songs he wrote specifically for this project, especially the opener, “Do You Mind Too Much If I Don’t Understand.” Johnny Cash’s “I’m a Worried Man” is well suited to the reggae treatment, and the recording makes a partnership out of Nelson’s casual delivery and Toots Hibbert’s impassioned vocalizing. Any remaining walls between country and reggae are completely demolished on the acoustic version of “The Harder They Come,” a sing-along that belongs equally to a campfire in the Old West and the beaches of Montego Bay.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Among the most unusual entries in the string of genre experiments Willie Nelson undertook in the 2000s, Countryman contains a juxtaposition of elements that should not cooperate. Dub, reggae and ska versions of country songs, complete with pedal-steel solos and vocals from one of the most wizened voices of the American South? And yet it works. Nelson’s deeply felt but casual singing style is right at home in the world of Jamaican rhythm. There are stellar interpretations of early Nelson songs like “Undo the Right” and “Darkness On the Face of the Earth,” but even better are the songs he wrote specifically for this project, especially the opener, “Do You Mind Too Much If I Don’t Understand.” Johnny Cash’s “I’m a Worried Man” is well suited to the reggae treatment, and the recording makes a partnership out of Nelson’s casual delivery and Toots Hibbert’s impassioned vocalizing. Any remaining walls between country and reggae are completely demolished on the acoustic version of “The Harder They Come,” a sing-along that belongs equally to a campfire in the Old West and the beaches of Montego Bay.

TITLE TIME

About Willie Nelson

Even before he became the Red Headed Stranger, Willie Nelson was already a Nashville songwriting legend, providing Patsy Cline with her 1961 signature tune, “Crazy.” But as a fledgling performer in his own right, the clean-cut honky-tonker’s humble approach and conversational croon was increasingly at odds with mainstream country music’s tilt toward variety-show glitz. Upon joining the post-hippie roots-music radicals taking over the Austin scene (and swearing off barbers forevermore), the Texas-born Nelson became an icon of the ’70s outlaw-country movement, favoring a stripped-down style that could both evoke desert-highway vistas (“On the Road Again”) and initiate the most intimate of conversations (“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”). But Nelson’s brand of down-home simplicity shouldn’t be confused with dogmatic purism (he’s also no stranger to adult-contemporary crossovers, like his duet with Julio Iglesias, “To All the Girls I've Loved Before”). Rather, he’s always searching for the most direct route to the soul of a song, whether he’s elevating the country standard “Always on My Mind” to the realm of modern hymn, or bringing a wistful, lived-in wisdom to Great American Songbook perennials like “Georgia on My Mind.” In the 21st century, Nelson’s outlaw ethos has continued to manifest itself in all sorts of surprising ways: He’s become America’s most visible pro-marijuana activist and Snoop Dogg’s unlikeliest duet partner.

HOMETOWN
Abbott, TX
GENRE
Country
BORN
April 29, 1933

Songs

Albums

Videos

Listeners Also Played