We’ve had an interesting batch of reissued albums sent in recently so over the next few weeks we’ll be indulging in a little bit of nostalgia. First up is this 1979 collaboration between Willie Nelson and Leon Russell recorded after the pair toured together. Russell, who died in 2016, was riding the coat tails of his fame by then while Nelson was gearing up his “outlaw country” persona breaking out of his Nashville straitjacket but the pair were even then old troupers and this album, originally a double vinyl release, finds them delving into country and tin pan alley standards. As such it’s not what you might call an “essential” part of either man’s catalogue but it’s a rollicking good listen with Russell and Nelson trading vocals, their voices quite complementary while there’s plenty of Russell’s piano work while Nelson throws in some fine guitar parts.
The album opens with a fiery trio of songs – Detour, I Saw The Light and Heartbreak Hotel which rock as if they were playing in a Texas roadhouse (and apparently Heartbreak Hotel reached No. 1 on the US country charts, a feat Nelson has never again achieved). Let The Rest Of The World Go By slows the pace on a typical Nelson tearjerker with strings and his sensitive guitar solo while Russell is content to tickle the ivories but it’s back to some barrelling boogie on Trouble In Mind with the pair sharing vocals with Maria Muldaur and Bonnie Raitt (who also adds some wicked slide guitar). They seems to be having great fun on their take of the old chestnut, Don’t Fence Me In which is followed by a superb reading of Wild Side Of Life and they amble to the end of the first of the original discs with a sunny side up attitude on Riding Down The Canyon which is given a fine Western Swing feel and Sioux City Sue.
There’s quite a shift on the second half of the album as they drop the rock’n’roll for Russell’s arrangements of which include Danny Boy, You Are My Sunshine, Stormy Weather and Summertime. As on his own album of classic songs, Stardust, here it’s Nelson’s voice which is the main attraction but there’s no denying Russell’s skills with his arrangement of Summertime particularly grand. The closing One For My Baby and One More For The Road has some funkier keyboards than one normally hears on this old saloon ballad.