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http://assets-s3.rollingstone.com/assets/images/album_review/1411267b214e8de14ae43ee4d3674883a9926c21.jpg Without a Song

Willie Nelson

Without a Song

Rolling Stone: star rating
Community: star rating
5 1 0
February 16, 1984

Without a Song, Willie Nelson's latest adventure in standards land, is a tame safari. In ten slow and sentimental ballads, Nelson circles his prey laconically, drawing a bead on love with his slow, Southern nasality but never shooting to kill. The familiar vocal hesitations and throat-catchings are all in place, but straightforward readings of these mostly less-than-spectacular tunes are tossed off by Nelson with little energy.

The basic ingredients for a good record are here — believable material and a tried-and-true team of players, including the English brothers' backbeat, Grady Martin's guitar pleasantries and guest vocalizing by heartthrob Julio Iglesias — but even these don't quite jell. Limp arrangements reminiscent of a bar mitzvah band's cursory thumping are underscored by Bee Spears' one-note-in-four bass and producer Booker T. Jones' omnipresent funeral-parlor organ. The magic that suffused "Stardust" and "Somewhere over the Rainbow" — two great cuts from previous albums — was created by mixing offbeat instruments, elements of bluegrass and swinging country, and enthusiasm. These qualities are sorely missing here. The Julio Iglesias collaboration is an almost throwaway rendering of "As Time Goes By." Even this fails to rouse Nelson from his lethargy. Don't play it again, Willie.

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    Song Stories

    “Try a Little Tenderness”

    Otis Redding | 1966

    This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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