Willie Nelson Countryman

Don’t laugh, this album kicks ass. Nelson’s duet on "Still is Still Moving to Me” with Toots Hibbert on True Love last year cemented it: Willie Nelson’s songs are of such a calibre that they can be drastically re-envisioned and still sound as strong as ever. A decade in the makinh, Countryman (a name coyly citing the Jamaican movie of the same name) offers steel guitars winding their way behind offbeat guitar chanks, harmonicas "chicka-chicka-ing” along with thumping bass cycles and dub delays echoing into the distance behind Nelson’s nasally crooning. Nelson covers a few of reggae’s classics ("The Harder They Come,” "Sitting in Limbo”), a Johnny Cash song dueted with Toots ("I’m a Worried Man”), and gives us nine revised originals. His take on Jimmy Cliff’s monumental "The Harder They Come” is striking — an acoustic western reggae complete with Dobro that highlights the common outlaw in both genres. This could, in fact, be one of the most intriguing covers ever. On Nelson’s own songs he jumps into a swaying rocksteady for "Do You Mind Too Much if I Don’t Understand,” solos along to a one drop drumbeat in "Darkness on the Face of the Earth” on his beat up classical guitar and treats "One in a Row” as if it had been minted in Kingston circa 1975. Sure, some will balk at Nelson’s reed thin voice and Nashville songwriting tackling fat grooves and dubby production, but reggae and country have a long (if lean) co-existence and, besides, the fastest one-handed joint roller in country music has a thing or two in common with Jamaican music. (Lost Highway)