With the still-supple Willie Nelson down to a modest album-a-year pace at seventy-three, the release of the Ryan Adams-produced Songbird so close upon March's Cindy Walker-linked You Don't Know Me suggests that maybe the old man just wanted to put this record behind him. Adams loves his band the Cardinals very much, and Nelson is an affable fellow. But the Cardinals' indistinct country-rock hybrid muffles the material. Compare the opener, "Rainy Day Blues," to his sharp, showy Jonny Lang-aided version from 2000; check how much clearer the indomitable "We Don't Run" came through on Spirit in 1996. Nelson is almost always worth hearing. Be grateful he put his stamp on Gram Parsons' "$1000 Wedding" and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." But Christine McVie's title song doesn't fly, Nelson's new "Back to Earth" didn't start all that far up, and Adams' previously unrecorded contribution is one of way too many.
- Willie Nelson
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