Monday, October 21, 2013


Two different celebrations here, marked by two themed discs, both with a similar premise.  Willie's turned 80, and this year has already featured one new recording, Let's Face The Music And Dance, where Nelson went back to his roots and recorded standards from jazz to popular from the 30's and 40's.    Meanwhile, The Skydiggers have been celebrating 25 years, and have been even more ambitious.  The group have been issuing a new disc every three months in 2013, one for each season, and after a live collection and a covers album, have come up with a unique idea, something like Willie's.  Each of them decided to work with women singers on their own new one.  The major difference is that Willie's doing duets, while Skydiggers hand the mic. over to their friends.

Nelson's, called To All The Girls, is the more predictable, with the line-up including lots of his friends and fellow country stars.  The album kicks things off with a nice, quiet ballad from Dolly Parton's pen, From Here To The Moon And Back, where each taking a verse and harmonizing on the chorus, Willie adding a pretty solo on Trigger.  These two are as comfortable as can be with each other after all these years.  Miranda Lambert comes in for the new Nashville crowd, helping Nelson update a Waylon track, She Was No Good For Me.  There are some old-fashioned tunes, lots of classic covers, and a few curveballs as well, both in song choices and guest stars.  Mavis Staples shows up for a wonderful take on Bill Withers' Grandma's Hands, and his daughter Paula features on a slowed-down version of the CCR cut Have You Ever Seen The Rain, which they first debuted on her album in 2010.  With a whopping 18 cuts, there's a lot of guests, a lot of styles, and all of them pretty darn satisfying.

The Skydiggers album is a less star-studded and track-stuffed affair, only eight cuts, but no less classy., called She Comes Into The Room.  Instead of going for big names, the group went with friends who they admired, status not the criteria.  They provided the band, and together the singers picked cuts from the group's large catalogue which fit the bill.  One of the most effective versions comes from young Toronto Ivy Mairi, who does a stripped-down version of the group's Feel You Closer, a Peter Cash tune that now has added power taken from a woman's point of view.  Long-time band friend Margo Timmins is always welcome on any stage or project, and here gets spooky on a more recent Andy Maize number, the title cut of their 2012 disc Northern Shore.  Other guests include Saidah Baba Tailbah, Angela Desveauz, Oh Susanna, Damhnait Doyle and the woman who started it all, Jessy Bell Smith.  She's been singing off and on for several years with the group, and does 1993's Ramblin' On  live at shows.   Hearing how she brings new meaning to the song, the band figured out this concept, and it wouldn't have the same without her.  As opposed to the Willie collection, this one is too small, another 3-4 cuts would have been great, but I love that they backed off, let the women take all the leads, and make it a unique idea.

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