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Willie Nelson and Friends Outlaws and Angels Review

Live. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

The sound is muggy, the performances unrehearsed, and they whip through the whole...

Sue Keogh 2002

Outlaws And Angels is the third in a series of live specials produced for American television. Like its predecessors, Stars and Guitars (2002) and Live And Kickin (2003), it sees Nelson teaming up with some country pals - this time it's Merle Haggard, Toby Keith, Lucinda Williams and Lee Ann Womack, with whom he recently won a Grammy for "Mendocino County Line" - and making unusual pairings with artists outside the genre.

Gracing the intimate surroundings of the Wiltern LG auditorium in Los Angeles are Kid Rock (who IS this guy? Does his Mum sponsor him five bucks for every time he gets on stage at a country gig?), Al Green, Toots Hibbert, Keith Richards, Jerry Lee Lewis and allegedly Bob Dylan, who's there in the press release but conspicuous by his absence on the album itself. Perhaps he got scared.

Why? Because, like the first two albums in the series, it's just a big ol' mess. Everyone has cottoned on to Nelson's trademark style of straying from the beat, to the point that no one is in time with anyone else. The sound is muggy, the performances unrehearsed, and they whip through the whole thing so quickly you'd think the bar was about to close.It probably looked great on t'telly; who wouldn't want to see what Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Richard and Merle Haggard do with the rock'n'roll classic "Whole Lotta Shaking Going On"? But with only your ears to rely on, one can't help but spot all the flaws.

The one which looked most promising on paper, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" finds Nelson needing to clear this throat and Carole King's voice wobbling uncontrollably, with the result that all the subtlety and delicacy of the original is knocked sideways. Even the old Outlaws classic "Pancho And Lefty", which these guys have been playing for nearly thirty years now, manages to get screwed up by everyone coming in on the wrong beat and Haggard's electric guitar solos going all over the place; it's up to young honorary Outlaw Toby Keith to save the day with an authoritative vocal.

The whole thing ends with the gospel favourite "I'll Fly Away", which was delivered with great precision recently by Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch on the O Brother, Where At Thou? soundtrack but is performed here in that forgivably sloppy end-of-night everyone-get-on-stage kind of way.

Top marks for barnstormin' atmosphere, but it sure don't sound great in your CD player.

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