Naturally, the not-so-unspoken joke behind the title of Willie Nelson’
s 2010 album is that it’s been so long since he’s played straight country music, he needs to clearly label it when he does. Of course, that’s not strictly true: just as recently as 2009 he was ripping it up with Asleep at the Wheel
, turning out a straight-ahead western swing record that is every bit as country as Country Music
, although it is true that he’s never quite cut a collection of country music as hushed and muted as this. The soft-plucked string bass and strummed acoustic guitars are trademarks of T-Bone Burnett
, the roots music producer whose well-tailored analog impressionism fetishizes authenticity, prizing every piece of pristinely preserved vintage equipment and then recording them immaculately, often with appealing results. There’s a nicely weathered assurance to Nelson'
s performance -- his voice never strains, he throws off licks with a casual virtuosity -- and he sounds like an old pro happy to play with whoever is in the studio, happy to sing whatever the producer puts in front of him.