If you run short of money, then Judge Dan Mancini will run short of time.
Whisky river take my mind!
Willie Nelson is that rare sort of recording artist whose appeal transcends his music's genre; lots of people who couldn't care less about country music, dig Willie Nelson. Jazz legend Miles Davis deeply admired Willie's unconventional but precise phrasing on both vocals and guitar. This broad base of appeal is what allowed Nelson to finally break through as a recording artist despite Nashville's dogged efforts to ignore and marginalize him for over a decade. As a songwriter, Nelson experienced almost immediate success. Billy Walker's recording of Nelson's "Hello Walls" was a big hit in 1961, as was Faron Young's rendition of "Funny How Time Slips Away." The following year, Patsy Cline made it to number two on the charts with "Crazy," also written by Nelson. But as a recording artist, Nelson's wiry frame and nasally voice clashed with the polished Nashville image machine. Producers tried and tried to turn him into something he wasn't, and Nelson's career didn't take off. By the early '70s, the frustrated singer/songwriter quit the business and returned to his home state of Texas where he began to stage massively successful concerts that drew a weird mix of rednecks, cowboys, and the hippies that gathered in the liberal enclave of Austin. Record companies took notice. Successful stints at Atlantic and Columbia followed. In 1975, Nelson released Red Headed Stranger, a gritty, mostly acoustic concept album of sorts that Columbia executives fell in love with, but believed was doomed to commercial oblivion. The record proved to be a breakout hit.
By 1983, Nelson's success was such that he was invited to headline Country Day at Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak's second annual US Festival, even overshadowing his good friend Waylon Jennings, who also played the event. The bones of the 23-song set are the same as on the 1978 double live album Willie and Family Live, but replace much of the Red Headed Stranger material with tunes from his multi-platinum Stardust (1978) and Always On My Mind (1982) releases, as well as his signature tune, "On the Road Again," from 1980's Honeysuckle Rose. The music is as easy-going yet sharp as Nelson himself. It's full of humor, pathos, and that half-smiling acknowledgment of the brokenness of the human condition that good country music shares with the blues. Nelson's obvious enjoyment of the lyrical trickery of his own "Good Hearted Woman" or Lefty Frizzell's "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time" is infectious. And the man's guitar playing is phenomenal. With "Trigger," his pick-scarred Martin N-20 tucked casually under his arm, he strums and fires off truly sweet riffs with such ease it's like he's not even aware he's doing it. Highlights of the set include fine performances of "Crazy" and "Night Life," a tight version of "Always on My Mind" for the show's closer, and two tunes during which he shares the stage and microphone with Waylon Jennings: "Good Hearted Woman" and "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys."
Shout! Factory's DVD release of Willie Nelson: Live at the US Festival 1983 does the best it can with limited resources. The full frame transfer is a bit muddy and washed out during the first 15 minutes of the show, but sharpens up as the sun goes down at the outdoor venue. The stereo audio track delivers crystal clear vocals and reasonably clear instrumentation, but dynamic range is pinched. Bass is discernible, but lacks punch. The sound would be a major disappointment if we weren't talking about a concert recorded nearly 30 years ago.
Willie Nelson rules. If you're a fan, grab this disc. The A/V won't blow you away, but it's reasonably solid given the age of the recording.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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