My Kind of Country

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Tag Archives: Django Reinhardt

Album Review: Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – ‘Django & Jimmie’

django and jimmieDjango & Jimmie is the latest endeavor by the ageless comrades Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. While the title suggests an album of songs made famous by Django Reinhart and Jimmie Rodgers, the Django part of the equation would be impossible to pull off since Django was a Gypsy guitarist whose musical compositions were instrumentals, “Nuages” being the most famous.

Instead what we have is an album of interesting songs, mostly new but some old, and taken from a variety of sources.

The Django connection for Willie Nelson is quite strong; you can hear it every time Willie plays his guitar. While Willie is an excellent guitar player, he is not in Django’s class (almost no one is) but listen to some Django recordings and you will know why Willie’s guitar playing sounds like it does.

As for Merle’s connection to Jimmie Rodgers, Merle and those such as Lefty Frizzell who influenced Merle, grew up with the music of Jimmie Rodgers. At the height of his commercial prowess in 1969 (he released six albums in 1969), Merle felt strongly enough about the music of Jimmie Rodgers that he recorded a two album set that he got Capitol Records to release. Ken Nelson, Merle’s producer must have cringed at the idea of releasing a two album set of blues, yodels, thirties pop music, Hawaiian music and parlor songs but release it he did. Nelson also put Rodgers’ “California Blues” as the B side to “Hungry Eyes”.

Surprisingly, the title song “Django and Jimmie” was not written by either Willie or Merle, coming instead from the pens of Jimmy Melton & Jeff Prince. In this jog-along ballad, Willie and Merle discuss where their styles came from

W

illie I’m a kid with a guitar
Trying to play “Nuages”, when they ask
Where does your style come from?

Merle I know what you mean
‘Cause I learned to sing
Listening to blue, yodel number one

Willie We love Hank and Lefty
Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, and Johnny Cash
But if we had to pinpoint
The start of who we are
Or who we go by

Both The Django and Jimmie
Paris, Mississippi
A young singing brakeman
A jazz playing gypsy
Might not have been
A Merle or a Willie
If not for a Django and Jimmie

The rest of the album really has nothing to do with Django or Jimmie, except to the extent that Django and Jimmie flavor all of their music.

“It’s All Going To Pot” has nothing to do with marijuana but instead comments on the general state of the world and the state of their own lives. The song was written by Buddy Cannon, Jamey Johnson and Larry Shell with Jamey joining Merle and Willie in vocalizing. The song is very upbeat in tempo with some Mariachi horns (played by Jamey Johnson):

Well, it’s all going to pot
Whether we like it or not
The best I can tell
The world’s gone to hell
And we’re sure gonna miss it a lot
All of the whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee
It just couldn’t hit the spot
I gotta hundred dollar bill, friend
You can keep your pills
‘Cause it’s all going to pot

“Unfair Weather Friend” is a gentle ballad about friendship. Penned by Marla Cannon-Goodman and Ward Davis, the song is the flip of the concept of fair weather friends.

“Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash” is a recent Merle Haggard composition on which Merle and Willie and Bobby Bare swap lyrics and stories about Johnny Cash. The song is an affectionate look back at their departed friend. This is another jog-along ballad that probably cannot be covered in a believable manner by anyone else. Here’s one of Willie’s verses:

Well now Johnny Cash wore black attire
And he fell into that Ring of Fire
He came up swinging like a Boy Named Sue
And he married June Carter and he [?] too
He wrote his songs from deep within
And he hit the stage with a crooked grin
He and I were both Highwaymen
And that record became a smash
Well I’m missing ol’ Johnny Cash

Here’s Bobby Bare’s verse:

Johnny Cash never walked no line
Johnny Cash never did no time, but
When he sang a Folsom Prison Blues
You knew good and well he’d paid his dues
True, he always dressed in black
But he loved folks and they loved him back
Carried his pills in a brown paper sack
Well I don’t care if they found his stash
I’m missin’ old Johnny Cash

Shawn Camp and Marv Green wrote “Live This Long” and I suspect that they wrote it specifically for this album. Another slow ballad, this song look backward at life and what might have done differently if the narrators had known that they would live this long.

“Alice In Hula Land” is a Willie Nelson-Buddy Cannon co-write. As performed here, the song is yet another slow ballad, but with a very Hawaiian sound. As best as I can tell, this song is about a groupie, although I may be very mistaken in my interpretation.

Alice in Hulaland
Come sit here on the front row
And get close to the sound
As close as you can
Are you there for the melody?
There for the lyrics?
Or just for the boys in the band?

“Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” is the Bob Dylan classic from treated as a straight-ahead country ballad with steel guitar featured prominently (Mike Johnson &/or Dan Dugmore) and harmonica by Mickey Raphael featured at points in the song also.

“Family Bible” was one of Willie’s first successful songs. Willie sold the rights to the song so the songwriter credits read Claude Gray, Paul Buskirk and Walt Breeland. Merle sings the verses on this song while Willie limits himself to playing the guitar and singing harmony on the choruses. THis is a very nice recording, perhaps my favorite recording of the song.

WIllie Nelson and Buddy Cannon collaborated on “It’s Only Money”. I don’t know who Renato Caranto is, but his saxophone work. Mike Johnson’s dobro and Jim “Moose” Brown’s keyboards really shine on this up-tempo song.

“Swinging Doors” was a huge Merle Haggard hit in 1966. If you ever wondered how Willie Nelson would tackle the song, here’s your chance to find out. Willie and Merle swap verses on this one.

“This Is Where Dreams Come To Die” is yet another Willie Nelson – Buddy Cannon composition. This slow ballad would make a lovely single in a less brain-dead musical environment.

This is where dreams come to die
This is where dreams come to die
Then they fly back to heaven
But this is where dreams come to die

They’re fun when you dream them
Everyone is laughing at you
And it’s fun, watching them wonder
And all of the dreams are coming true

“Somewhere Between” is a old Merle Haggard song from 1967, an album track from his 1967 album Branded Man. Suzy Bogguss had a nice recording of the song about twenty years ago, but the song never has been a big hit for anyone, being mostly relegated to being an album track on countless albums. Willie sings the vocals on this one.

Somewhere between your heart and mine
There’s a window that I can’t see through
There’s a wall so high that it reaches the sky
Somewhere between me and you

I love you so much, I can’t let you go
And sometimes, I believe you love me
But somewhere between your heart and mine
There’s a door without any key

Yet another Willie Nelson-Buddy Cannon song is next, a cowboy western ballad titled “Driving The Herd”. The subject matter seems self-explanatory, but the song can be interpreted either as a song about a cattle drive, or a song about a singer gauging his audience.

The album closes with “The Only Man Wilder Than Me”, another recent Merle Haggard composition that could be about either Merle or Willie in their younger days. The tempo is that of a slow ballad.

This album is fine – although older, Willie’s voice is in better shape than Haggard’s, but the band is tight, the songs are very good and the songs are treated with proper respect. It’s pretty clear that neither artist has an ego problem because the ebb and flow between Willie and Merle couldn’t be better

Grade: A-

Album Review: Ashley Lewis – ‘Captivated’

captivatedMost of the best female artists seem to come out of bluegrass these days. Singer, songwriter and mandolin player Ashley Lewis is the latest to catch my attention. Although this is her third album, it seems to be her breakthrough moment, setting a record for the number of tracks picked up simultaneously by bluegrass radio. Small wonder, as she has a lovely voice reminiscent of the young Alison Krauss, and is a talented writer who has composed almost all the songs here. The album is produced by fiddle player Jimmy Mattingly, and Jon Randall provides harmony vocals.

Opener ‘Nothing But Ashes’ is a fine song about facing the reality of a fading love affair.

‘Ghost’ is an excellent song with a beautiful melody (co-written with Jon Weisberger) about the pain of an abandoned wife’s memories of love now lost. Ashley has a vulnerable vocal which makes the song entirely believable, as she bemoans her ex’s choice:

Please don’t tell me it was worth the cost

Ashley’s angelic vocal soars on the dramatic Civil War story song ‘Blockade Runner’, backed by Mattingly’s atmospheric fiddle and Sammy Shelor’s banjo. ‘Winter In Wyoming’ is outstanding, a beautifully sung lonesome ballad about separation from a loved one who has followed his dream to Nashville. This is my favourite track.

The charming ‘You Put The Fire in Me’ has a Western Swing feel and features a cameo from Vince Gill on guitar (though sadly not vocals). ‘Blue Ridge Rain’ is delicately pretty, and the sultry ‘Fan The Flame’ and ‘Rivers Rising’ are also good. ‘Convicted’ is quite good but didn’t hold my attention as much as other tracks.

‘Another Place, Another Time’ is a wistful duet with Josh Williams which is excellent. This gentle ballad is actually included in two versions, bluegrass and country, the latter having a very slighter fuller but still tastefully understated production.

She veers into jazz in her instrumentals, which include a Django Reinhardt cover. ‘Mermaid’ also has a jazzy feel which is less to my taste than the rest of the album, although it is impeccably performed. An unexpected cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ is dreamily sung.

Overall, this is a fine addition to the ranks of female bluegrass stars, and well worth checking out.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Willie Nelson and Family – ‘Let’s Face The Music And Dance’

let's face the music and danceAt 80 Willie Nelson remains one of the most prolific, and eclectic, of musicians. His latest album showcases his jazzy side, and the influences of the popular music of his childhood, but the relatively stripped down accompaniments should appeal to Willie’s country fans. Tastefully understated production from the estimable Buddy Cannon, and backings mainly from Willie’s ‘Family’ band (in fact the record is credited to Willie Nelson and Family) lead to a relaxed sounding set. Always a stylist rather than a great vocalist, Nelson’s voice has not deteriorated significantly enough to hamper his interpretations of these songs.

A quietly jazzy reading of 1930s Irving Berlin-penned standard ‘Let’s Face The Music And Dance’ with Spanish guitar backing sets the mood for the album. Much of the album has a very similar pace, and although it works very well, occasionally it gets a bit samey.

Nelson has recorded ‘Twilight Time’ before, and this version is pleasant but feels redundant. Some of the remaining songs (Berlin’s ‘Marie (the Dawn Is Breaking)’, ‘You’ll Never Know’ and ‘I Wish I Didn’t Love You So’) have that classical Great American Songbook feel and Willie and band perform them impeccably, but I found my attention wandering a little while they were playing. The similarly vintage ‘Walking My Baby Back Home’ has a lot more charm and the prominent harmonica from Mickey Raphael and Bobbie Nelson’s piano licks add character.

I also liked ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’, which is even older, dating from a 1920s musical rooted in Harlem jazz, the most popular African-American music of the period. It suits Willie’s laid back vocal and the band sound great on the extended instrumental intro.

‘I’ll Keep On Loving You’ was a country hit in 1940 for country/Western Swing legend Floyd Tillman, and is another song well-suited to Nelson and band. Nelson also tackles ‘Shame On You’, a song from western swing pioneer Spade Cooley, sadly better known for the savage murder of his wife, which makes this song, castigating an unfaithful wife, rather uncomfortable listening.

Most of the songs come from the 1920s through the 1940s. The most modern song is Willie’s own ‘Is The Better Part Over’ (from the 1989 album A Horse Called Music). It is a distinctly downbeat number about calling time on a failing relationship, but it is an excellent song and Willie’s understated and subtle interpretation make this a highlight.

A couple of nicely played jazz instrumentals (both associated with Django Reinhardt) allow the band to stretch out.

First recorded for a movie by singing cowboy Gene Autry, ‘South Of The Border’ has a relaxed Mexican feel which rings the changes a bit. I also enjoyed the mid-paced harmonica-led take on the Carl Perkins rockabilly classic ‘Matchbox’.

This is a fine record from a man it would be no exaggeration to call a living legend.

Grade: A

Buy Let’s Face the Music and Dance at amazon.

Listen to the album on Spotify.