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Story and Live File Photos by Andy ArgyrakisAt 76-years-old with a career that dates back to 1956, Willie Nelson is one of the most enduring artists of any genre who continues to push himself creatively rather than resting on his laurels. Sure, he has as stable of hits and has literally collaborated with every prominent player on the planet (not to mention been covered by countless artists within and outside of country contexts), but the troubadour used a recent "Soundstage" taping platform to tip his hat toward many unsung heroes from yesteryear.
Though the broadcast won't take place until the eighth season of the famed concert program at the top of 2010, those packed within the intimate and always acoustically perfect Grainger Studios were treated to a sneak preview of a forthcoming album under producer T Bone Burnett. That yet to be titled disc is being billed as bluegrass album, but as a near two hour set indicated, it truly encompassed a wide variety of rootsy styles including classic country, beer-soaked blues and even an old time gospel tune or two.
Nelson and his eight piece band (void of any percussion players), kicked into overdrive with "Whiskey River" and "A Man With the Blues," the latter of which he wrote fifty years ago and more than lived up to its well traveled title. But the veteran was anything but sorrowful as he dived into the retro bluegrass standard "Ocean of Diamonds," alongside Ray Price's country classic "You Done Me Wrong."
The versatility and jubilance continued with the spiritual tone of "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down," which Burnett brought to the current sessions following similar artistic brushstrokes as his masterful O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack collection. Nelson turned cowboy for Al Dexter's gun slinger "Pistol Packin' Mamma" and soon sauntered with the lullaby-like Hank Locklin recollection "Send Me the Pillow," but he was perhaps most convincing during Bob Wills' blues-entrenched "Trouble In Mind."
Despite the engrossing nature of his performance, the show lacked one major element of Nelson's career and that was any of his personal hits. One couldn't help miss the legend's eternal readings of "Always On My Mind," "On the Road Again," "Crazy" or "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys," amidst five more decades of endless radio staples. While those were obviously missed, at least there wasn't anything to complain about from what was presented, which in hindsight, will probably make for a more compelling and unpredictable television special.
For a list of current season programming and future season eight announcements, visit www.wttw.com/soundstage.
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