Judge Victor Valdivia has never been to Whiskey River, but he is very familiar with its tributary, Cognac Creek.
"On the road again
Willie Nelson has become such a pop culture icon, what with his cameos in TV shows and films, his Kennedy Center honor, and his own Ben & Jerry Ice Cream flavor, that it's sometimes hard to remember why he became famous in the first place. That's why this DVD is so welcome. The Willie Nelson Special compiles an excellent, if all too brief, concert that not only shows off Nelson at his peak but also includes a welcome appearance by another musical titan, Ray Charles. It's a welcome reminder of the enormous talent that made Nelson so beloved in the first place.
The Willie Nelson Special was taped in 1985 at the Austin Opry House in Texas. Nelson is backed by his full band and Ray Charles joins him for several numbers. Here is the set list:
• "On the Road Again"
The set list draws from most of Nelson's career, although because the show is so short, it necessarily shortchanges some of his most classic songs; it would have been nice to hear "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" or "Funny How Time Slips Away." It's also a little infuriating that those songs are left out so that Nelson can play "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," his hit 1984 duet with Julio Iglesias (who does not appear here) and easily the silliest, corniest song he's ever written. Nonetheless, the rest of the set is well-chosen, containing some of Nelson's best and most famous songs. He also gets to show off his impressive musicianship. Nelson is primarily known as a singer and songwriter, but as his solos on "On the Road Again" and "Without A Song" prove, he's actually a remarkable guitarist. His voice is also in full force, able to wrap around the gentle "My Window Faces the South" and the hard-rocking "Who'll Buy My Memories?" with equal power. The show even closes with a rollicking version of "Whiskey River" that seals it as a great concert. Throw in some interview and rehearsal snippets and there's no doubt that fans will want to get this DVD.
The addition of Ray Charles, however, makes this more than just another great Nelson DVD. Charles appears for six songs—nearly half the show—and gets to perform his classic "Georgia On My Mind," along with other songs. Charles is no stranger to country music—his landmark 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music demonstrated his affection for the genre. Here he adds some elegant R&B licks to "Mountain Dew" and "Angel Eyes" and helps Nelson deliver a ravishingly beautiful version of "Seven Spanish Angels."
As always, Eagle Rock Entertainment remains the best music DVD label around for its stellar presentations. The full-screen transfer is as sharp as '80s VHS transferred to DVD can be, with no glitches and only mild blurring. It's the audio mixes, though, where Eagle Rock excels. The DTS 5.1 mix is startlingly loud and clear, but without any distortion or overlapping. Each instrument and voice is clear without drowning out any other element. The same is true for the Dolby 5.1 surround mix, although that one is just a hair softer. There are no extras, however, and since this show appears to have been edited to make it one hour long, it would have been nice to include any footage that was left out.
Nonetheless, The Willie Nelson Special is worth seeing. Eagle Rock's typically sterling presentation combines with one of Nelson's best performances into a must-have for both fans and newcomers alike. Highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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