Willie Nelson The Great Divide

No one really has the right to question what Willie Nelson does. In a 40-plus-year career, he's written some of the most enduring songs in country music and defied the industry every step of the way. But ever since his brilliant 1998 collaboration with Daniel Lanois, Teatro, Nelson has seemingly been reluctant to build on that artistic breakthrough. What we've gotten has been a half-hearted tribute to his blues influences and a charming but irrelevant children's album. Now comes The Great Divide, a slick, adult contemporary record, mostly consisting of duets with notably bland peddlers of that genre, such as Rob Thomas and Sheryl Crow. What makes this album most immediately troubling is that it's obviously the brainchild of some record exec looking to sell Nelson to suburban America, something Nelson has never been about (let's just forget about "All The Girls I've Loved Before" for a minute). Only on the unadorned title track does a glimpse of the real Willie come through, with his jagged, Spanish-inflected acoustic guitar guiding his ageless voice. His take on the Kenny Rogers psych nugget "Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In" comes a close second, but these are the album's only saving graces; a huge disappointment. (Island)