Review: “Willie and the Wheel,” Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel
Man, music doesn’t get any more fun than this. American master musician Willie Nelson singing a selection of Western Swing classics accompanied by Texas swingers Asleep at the Wheel – an unlikely union, to be sure. But this union was envisioned and engineered by master producer Jerry Wexler, who died last year. He was able to hear the result of this bit of genius before he passed, thank god. From the first licks of opener “Hesitation Blues” to the closer “Won’t You Ride In My Little Red Wagon,” this album rocks. Many of these songs were made famous by people like Bob Wills and Spade Cooley way back in the Depression – so what better timing to bring ’em back, eh? You realize Nelson could have been a big star back then, or in any era: his lazy, jazzy vocals fit perfectly as the music lopes from Western swing to Dixieland to straight jazz. The Wheel’s steel guitarist Bob Rivers shines throughout, and he even holds his own against guest stars Vince Gill and Paul Shaffer on the instrumental “South.” And Elizabeth McQueen of the Wheel gets her own spotlight in a duet with Willie on “I’m Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” the album’s highlight. Is there anything Willie Nelson can’t do? Well, maybe reggae … but Willie and the Wheel is a delight, it’s the first must-have album of the year.