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Willie Nelson ought to stay on the road

The Orpheum, Boston, Nov. 5, 2002

By Jeffrey B. Remz

BOSTON - At the ripe young age of 69, Willie Nelson could easily be faulted if he decided to take life a little easier.

But on Election Night, the braided one with a very white beard showed he is not exactly ready for Social Security just yet. (of course given past problems with the IRS, who knows just how much he'd want to deal with the government anyway?)

Nelson and his band of veterans bounded on stage with a smile and his arms waving to the enthusiastic multi-generational crowd as young as higher schoolers.

Of course, if that was all there is Nelson at this stage of his four-decade plus long career, that would not quite cut it.

Many of his contemporaries have long ago given up any sense of originality and just play it by the numbers - heck, so do a host of many of country's young performers too.

But Nelson pulled a Bob Dylan of sorts - meaning he rearranged a batch of his songs. They weren't so unfamiliar as to cause you wonder exactly what he was doing, but different enough that Nelson kept listeners on their toes. Of course, it probably helps keep Nelson on his toes too. After all how many times can he sing "Crazy" the same old way?

One thing that doesn't sound any different now than a few decades or more ago is Nelson's voice. It is a full-bodied instrument, maybe not quite everyone's cup of tea, but he uses it almost always to good effect.

And those effects meant he was just as adept as giving the crowd the straight-ahead country chestnuts to out and out blues songs.

Nelson, of course did not do it alone. His backing band, including sister Bobbie on piano, may have been around the block once or twice, but they also come with inspired playing in hand.

Band members aren't merely left in the background while Nelson soaks up the acclaim. Everyone gets a chance to shine at some time or another with harp player Mickey Raphael particularly strong throughout.

Ands count Willie among them as being quite fine with his playing. In fact, Nelson's guitar playing is very underrated. He, of course, shows up with a decades old beat up acoustic guitar with a hole in the middle. But that doesn't deter Nelson whatsoever. The guy can flat out play whether slow, fast, bluesy or country. He's not showy. He is clean, sharp whether fast or slow.

Aside from a bit of a slide during the middle of the show when the songs were a tad too similar sounding, Nelson was on target from the starting "Whiskey River" to classics like "Good Hearted Woman," ""Stardust" and "Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" to selections from his fine recent album, "The Great Divide" and a closing batch of Hank Williams Sr. songs including "Move It On Over."

And, of course, 'On the Road Again." Willie said in recent weeks that he was going to take more time off the road. But he seemed to gain more and more energy from the crowd as the 135-minute show unfolded, whipping hats and bandanas into the crowd at will and happily shaking hands and giving autographs from the stage at the end to the adoring crowd.

Somehow given this type of performance from an American icon, a youngster like Willie Nelson ought to be on the road again and soon.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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