To Willie CD - Dead Oceans
Not every song on To Willie, a heartfelt tribute to the man and his influential musical output, was written by Willie Nelson, and not all the Nelson songs here are his best-known by any means, but with their fourth recording Phosphorescent (the performing moniker of Georgian Mathew Houck) have admirably captured the spirit of the man, even if no one will mistake the music on To Willie for Nelson himself.
The album’s opening cut, “Reasons to Quit,” the Merle Haggard penned opus to the powerful seduction on youth of drinking and getting high, exerts a strong pull into the rest of To Willie. Hank Cochran’s “Can I Sleep in Your Arms,” lifted from Red Headed Stranger where it was given a mournful and minimalist framing by Nelson, retains the lament, but through some multi-tracked self-harmonizing by Houck is recast as a gospel ballad. Of the tunes written by Nelson, the waltz “Walkin’,” which gets a full band treatment, and “It’s Not Supposed to Be that Way,” featuring a duet with Angel Deradoorian, come away best, perhaps.
In my ears, To Willie is one of the better recordings from Phosphorescent. Even so, when Houck ventures into more up-tempo area, as on “I Gotta Get Drunk,” “Pick Up the Tempo,” and “The Party's Over,” things go south. His limited musical palette is just not up to the task.
By Michael Meade