Willie Nelson, Wynton Marsalis and Norah Jones: Here We Go Again (Blue Note)

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Willie, Wynton and Norah: I Love You So Much It Hurts
Willie Nelson, Wynton Marsalis and Norah Jones: Here We Go Again (Blue Note)

This cross-generational/cross-genre superstar triumvirate isn't as unusual as it appears on paper: There are two or fewer degrees of separation between the protagonists.

Jones has toured and performed with Nelson (here); Willie and Waylon got together for their less-than-thrilling Two Men with the Blues project (CD/DVD); and Jones began life in Wynton's hometown of jazz.

Given all that you'd like to say that the sum here is something more than its parts, but this is very much parts.

Nominally a live tribute to Ray Charles, his music becomes the vehicle for some excellent playing by the band which includes trumpeter Marsalis, pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist Carlos Henriquez, saxophonist Walter Blanding and drummer Ali Jackson (from the jazz side), and harmonica player Mickey Raphael who brings country to proceedings.

So on a purely musical level this is interesting as they overhaul Charles' music into Cuban styles (Unchain My Heart), gospel (Hit the Road Jack, Busted), bebop (Makin' Whoopee) and -- obviously -- the country music (Cryin' Time) which Charles loved.

Where this falls at the first post is in Nelson's vocal which of course works fine in country-coloured places (Cryin' Time, once Jones steps back) because that is his idiom. But on classics like Hallelujah I Love Her, Unchain My Heart, Hit the Road Jack and others he lacks any punch, bringing neither soul nor blues to songs which require them.

Jones does what she does best (the ballads Come Rain or Come Shine, Here We Go Again) but when duetting with Willie these two very different voices really don't gel at all.

Musicians will enjoy how the arrangements shift from boogaloo to Afro-Latin (I'm Movin' On) or r'n'b to shuffle (Here We Go Again) for example, and of course Nelson's guitar playing is always enjoyably unpredictable. (Here he hits a real western swing style in places).

But enjoyable as this must have been for the players and audience on the night (February 2009), too much of it is to be admired rather than enjoyed.

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