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Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis Two Men With The Blues Review

Live. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

On paper it probably shouldn’t have worked. But on disc it does – and how!

Michael Quinn 2008

Let's cut to the chase: this is phenomenal music made to seem all the more astonishing for being delivered with such consummate ease that it sounds almost casually thrown off.

In early 2007 two of contemporary American music's greatest icons, jazz trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis and country music legend Willie Nelson, teamed up for a couple of unforgettable nights at New York's Lincoln Center.

The souvenir from those evenings proves to be one of those rare recordings that leaves you simultaneously exhilarated at having eavesdropped on two magnificent musicians working in perfect harmony, and devastated at not having been there in person.

Two Men With The Blues may well be one of the greatest live albums ever made. It crowns Nelson as one of the most charismatic performers of his generation and underlines the incredible virtuosity of Marsalis in a value-for-money collection of classic Blues standards.

The pair are backed by a crack five-piece band firing on all cylinders – saxophonist Walter Blanding, pianist Dan Nimmer, bass man Carlos Henriquez, harmonica player Mickey Raphael and Ali Jackson on drums. The frankly unlikely partnership between the grizzled-looking but never better sounding Nelson and the clean cut and urbane Marsalis sizzles from the start to surprise and offer up dazzling delights on virtually every phrase, every solo, every duet, every moment of ensemble.

Opening with a swaggeringly sure-footed Bright Lights, Big City, it segues into a heady, hard-core blues-ballad rendition of Night Life, itself topped by a blazing be-bop take on Caldonia. Nelson and Marsalis step nimbly in and out of the centre spot with an unerring sense of what is musically right.

Nelson's vocals on Stardust are a touch brighter than Hoagy Carmichael may have intended but the effect is leavened by a smokey, gently twisting trumpet line full of yearning beauty courtesy of Marsalis. Another Nelson standard, Georgia On My Mind, has a sweet, subdued but compelling intimacy and could legitimately lay claim to the title of ultimate standout track on an album of standout tracks.

Elsewhere, fun is to be had with a rollicking Rainy Day Blues, the drunkenly swaying, New Orleans-tinged My Bucket's Got A Hole In It, and polished session-closer That's All.

On paper it probably shouldn’t have worked. But on disc it does – and how!

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