Reviews have been rather mixed for this Ryan Adams-produced album of mostly cover songs that all feature Ryan Adams’s backing band. But last December, when word got out that Adams and Nelson were recording together, the news spread like wildfire in giddy anticipation of an oldie-meets-newbie songwriter relationship that could blossom into something special.
Alas, it didn’t. It blossomed into, well, something. If you’re a fan of Ryan and his Cardinals, you’ll probably like this album’s sound. It’s very Cold Roses/Jacksonville City Nights: Grateful Deady at times mixed with traditional country western music. The big complaint seems to be that the sound is over-produced, and it is: At times, Nelson’s soft voice gets so drowned out that it’s hard to figure out what he’s saying. “Stella Blue,” the Jerry Garcia staple, is mumbled (just like Garcia did in the mid-’90s), a shame because the song is great lyrically. “Hallelujah,” the great Leonard Cohen song, is fantastic until the gospel backup singers come in and cheese it up a bit.
There are a few gems here, though. Keith Whitley’s “Sad Song and Waltzes” is quite good, mostly because there isn’t much going on, which lets Nelson’s voice do what it does best: convey sentimentality in an understated, soft and gentle form, the same voice your grandfather may use when he slips you a shiny fifty-cent piece. Opener “Rainy Day Blues,” another standout, has that strut-your-stuff swagger that Nelson (very convincingly) pulls off. But ultimately Songbird feels a bit rushed, and when you have as gifted a songwriter as Adams working with as gifted a songwriter as the Red-Headed Stranger, it’s a bit of a letdown to ponder what they could have done.
Label: http://www.losthighway.com/Audio: http://www.myspace.com/willienelson