Songbird

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Barnes & Noble - David McGee
Whether it's the presence of Ryan Adams as producer and Adams's band, the Cardinals, in support, or simply a sign of reinvigoration on his part, Willie Nelson comes to Songbird with palpable purpose -- you can feel his commitment to the moment in every song, from the boozy kickoff of his own reconstituted "Rainy Day Blues" to a stunning, album-closing treatment of "Amazing Grace" as an ironic blues ballad. In between those bookends, Willie does nothing less than remind us of what a great singer can do with a lyric by dint of intellect and heart -- the shading and nuance of his readings here rival the depth he achieved on the Daniel Lanois-produced Teatro. The Cardinals ...
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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - David McGee
Whether it's the presence of Ryan Adams as producer and Adams's band, the Cardinals, in support, or simply a sign of reinvigoration on his part, Willie Nelson comes to Songbird with palpable purpose -- you can feel his commitment to the moment in every song, from the boozy kickoff of his own reconstituted "Rainy Day Blues" to a stunning, album-closing treatment of "Amazing Grace" as an ironic blues ballad. In between those bookends, Willie does nothing less than remind us of what a great singer can do with a lyric by dint of intellect and heart -- the shading and nuance of his readings here rival the depth he achieved on the Daniel Lanois-produced Teatro. The Cardinals back him on their own terms, sensitive to the unfolding drama in each song and adding evocative twang and sludge to the soundscape; of Willie's usual "family," only harmonica master Mickey Raphael is present, but every time he shows up it's memorable. From his own rich catalog Willie delivers "Sad Songs and Waltzes," then ventures forth to turn Jerry Garcia-Robert Hunter's "Stella Blue" into a country tear-jerker. Unlike Jack White, who had to be sure everyone knew he was on Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose, Adams is a benign presence on Songbird: his voice comes through when Willie explores the melancholy beauty of Adams's "Blue Hotel" a song the producer wrote especially for his artist, and in a foreboding sonic setting rife with pedal steel moans and Raphael's heart-rending harmonica punctuations. The coup de grace is a version of Leonard Cohen's venerated "Hallelujah," to which Willie brings Brechtian drama by way of his understated irony and a vocal approach clearly indebted to Cohen's own parched reading. A masterpiece.
All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
The pairing of Ryan Adams and his band the Cardinals with Willie Nelson may seem a tad odd, but Nelson has always had a penchant for the unusual and extraordinary; from Plácido Domingo to Leon Russell, Nelson enjoys working with others in collaboration. That said, Songbird is a collaboration of a different sort, and it most resembles -- in feel, not sound -- the work Nelson did with Daniel Lanois on Teatro: loose, relaxed, adventuresome. In essence, Nelson allowed Adams to produce him using the Cardinals, and a couple of Nelson's sidemen, harmonica player Mickey Raphael and Glenn Patscha on Hammond B-3. This is Nelson singing electric rock and blues. While that may read like it would be a travesty, it actually accounts for Nelson's best record since Teatro. His easy delivery, contrasted with Adams wiry production, creates an emotionally honest, deeply moving recording with the best traits of both men shining forth. Nelson wrote four tracks on this set, Adams wrote two, and the selection of covers -- "Songbird" by Christine McVie, Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter's "Stella Blue," Gram Parsons' "$1,000 Wedding," and Harlan Howard's "Yours, Love" -- is stellar. Opening with Nelson's "Rainy Day Blues," featuring Raphael and Adams in deep blues counterpoint, Willie seems to take energy from the ban; finding a slippery sense of time in the verses, he walks between the instrumentalists. It's an unlikely opener but a fine one. Christine McVie's classic title track, originally appearing on Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, has been utterly reinvented here. The band, in full jangle mood, Nelson sounding decades younger than his 73 years, make this a hungry song, one that pledges to the beloved in absentia, writing a letter and pouring out his heart to the woman he desires. The guitars sting and slither in the breaks. Adams' "Blue Hotel" follows and is the mirror image of the title cut. This is the road-weary, lonesome protagonist strolling aimlessly and forlornly; he's raw and confused and the song is the only outlet for expressing his desolation. A chorus of backing vocalists enters the tune on the final refrains and takes it over the top. It's devastatingly beautiful. Turning Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," into a country waltz is no mean feat, but Nelson and Adams strip away all the overblown intensity the song has been imbued with in the past by others and states it matter of factly. There are some wonderfully understated sound effects and again a choir picking up the refrains and a pedal steel guitar leading the changes as the band helps the singer through the tune. Adams and band had to adjust to Nelson's rollicking style of performance-oriented songwriting on his "We Don't Run," that spits and struts and glides by like a tour bus on the highway in the night. The haunting reading of "Amazing Grace" that closes the set is almost an Adams' nod to Lanois' liberal interpretations of traditional songs. The band all centers around the B-3, and Nelson sings in counterpoint, reinventing the melody. His protagonist is standing on the verge of the abyss between life and death and has the sobering enlightenment that grace comes only when it is granted unexpectedly. Ultimately, Nelson is at a peak here; he's had many and hopefully there will be many more -- God knows we need him -- and Adams' understated, true-to-the-song production leads us to hope for more of this from him. Songbird is a late-year surprise, and a stunner from top to bottom.
Entertainment Weekly - Jody Rosen
[Grade: A-] Willie Nelson's finest [album] in a decade.... The old troubadour can still write the best weepers around.

[Grade: A-] Willie Nelson's finest [album] in a decade.... The old troubadour can still write the best weepers around.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 10/31/2006
  • Label: Lost Highway
  • UPC: 602498583531
  • Catalog Number: 000693902

Tracks

Disc 1
  1. 1 Rainy Day Blues (5:33)
  2. 2 Songbird (2:41)
  3. 3 Blue Hotel (3:32)
  4. 4 Back to Earth (3:00)
  5. 5 Stella Blue (6:24)
  6. 6 Hallelujah (4:54)
  7. 7 $1000 Wedding (3:06)
  8. 8 We Don't Run (4:20)
  9. 9 Yours Love (3:04)
  10. 10 Sad Songs and Waltzes (3:18)
  11. 11 Amazing Grace (4:48)
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Album Credits

Performance Credits
Willie Nelson Primary Artist, Harmonica
Mickey Raphael Harmonica
Karen Bernod Choir, Chorus
Neal Casal Guitar, Piano, Keyboards
Melonie Daniels Choir, Chorus
Jon Graboff Pedal Steel Guitar
Glenn Patscha Keyboards, Hammond Organ
Horace V. Rogers Choir, Chorus
Ryan Adams Acoustic Guitar, Bass Guitar, Electric Guitar
Tiffany Palmer Choir, Chorus
Darius Booker Choir, Chorus
Catherine Popper Bass Guitar
Tiffany Anderson Choir, Chorus
Felicia Graham Choir, Chorus
Carlos Ricketts Choir, Chorus
Brad Pemberton Drums
Technical Credits
Craig Allen Art Direction
Fred Kevorkian Mastering
Jim Keller Engineer
Jamie Candiloro Engineer
Melonie Daniels Vocal Arrangements
Danny Clinch Cover Photo
Ryan Adams Producer, Audio Production
Tiffany Palmer Vocal Arrangements
Darius Booker Vocal Arrangements
Peter Doris Engineer
Gus Oberg Engineer
Carlos Ricketts Choir Arrangement
Eddie Jackson Engineer
Tom Gloady Engineer
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