Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson’s new disk was probably inevitable, given that in many ways the red-headed stranger and reggae music are virtually joined by the hip, with stories of outlaws and class inequities, Nelson’s penchant for fusing traditional country with other forms, and of course their “affiliations” with cannabis consumption—the album’s cover features a marijuana leaf, although some chain stores are stocking one with a palm tree on it (yawn…). Good news/bad news: The disk features way-cool covers of reggae standards (“The Harder They Come” and “Sitting In Limbo”), with pedal steel, dobro and Willie’s trademark nylon-string solos more than keeping up with the music’s percussion and spirit; at the same time it includes a handful of rehashed versions of songs that sounded better on 1998’s Teatro (“Darkness on the Face of the Earth” and “I’ve Just Destroyed the World”). For my money, though, the disc’s highlights more than make up for any flaws: On Johnny Cash’s “I’m a Worried Man,” Toots (from the Maytals) Hibbard not only sings his verses like a man possessed, but his spontaneous dialogue (“play it, Willie”) infuses the song with an absolutely infectious earnestness and charm.