Across the Borderline

Not Rated

A grand tour of contemporary song, Willie Nelson's latest finds him showcasing wonders by such writers as Paul Simon, Lyle Lovett, Bob Dylan and himself — and dueting with Dylan, Sinead O'Connor and Bonnie Raitt. Wise to the folk ways that underlie this music, he lends each gem his sympathetic personality — but so subtly that the songs appear to soar on their own wings. When Nelson sings with O'Connor on Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up," his gentleness is, as always, startling; he's also terrific riding Mose Allison's jazz piano on Willie Dixon's "I Love the Life I Live." A sumptuous feast, "Across the Borderline" balances the stark guitar-and-voice ardor of "Who'll Buy My Memories?" (1991); both bespeak a master's revival.

"The same hand that led me through scenes most severe/Has calmly assisted me home," Bob Dylan sings on "Lone Pilgrim," one of the traditional folk marvels that make "World Gone Wrong" a fitting follow-up to last year's "Good As I Been to You" and another remarkably strong showing. That guiding hand could signify the American muse that has motivated all his work: By returning to Blind Willie McTell, "Stack a Lee" and such obscure outfits as the Mississippi Sheiks, Dylan reclaims the origins of his own poetry. And it's lovely that in his full maturity he has achieved what had always seemed his proper fate: He's a genius blues singer, oracular and timeless.

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