Two Men With The Blues
Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis
By James Calemine
Recorded in 2007 at the Lincoln Center when Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis played together, Two Men With The Blues find Nelson’s country background and Marsalis' jazz origins in a agreeable amalgamation of styles. Nelson recently told NPR about this unlikely collaboration: “It’s all music. You got so many notes and there are so many words to throw in there, and you get different people mixing it up different ways. But you put it all together and that’s music.”
Marsalis used a barbecue analogy to address these musical styles: “We’re all part of the same root. It’s like eating barbecue: Texas people barbecue; Louisiana people barbecue catfish. We taught them what to do with catfish. We don’t have to be together to do that, you know?”
The opening track, Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights Big City”, blends country and jazz into the blues number like various ingredients to a spicy gumbo. This tune sets the tone for this high-quality release. They cover Nelson’s “Night Life” in a way one might think it’s a Miles Davis composition until you hear Nelson’s indelible voice.
Usually country and jazz music proves difficult to mix without a certain amount of schmaltz, but Nelson and Marsalis eschew any phony hipness on these songs. A delicate balance from both artists’ style comprises these memorable tunes. A perfect example of this musical blending is a cover of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust”. Only seasoned professionals could pull off such a task.
A cover of Spencer Williams’ “Basin Street Blues” epitomizes a laid back, smooth sound both musicians are well-known for throughout their careers. Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind” advances this frequently-covered song into a jazzy version that counts as unforgettable.
Nelson’s “Rainy Day Blues” closes the cultural gaps between jazz and country in a way that indicates there’s very little difference in the emotions the musicians are trying to convey--regardless of any musical genre. A ragtime-flavored rendition of “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It” will have folks from New Orleans and Austin dancing in the streets together.
The closer, Merle Travis’ “That’s All” comes across as a sophisticated honky-tonk ditty that props this standard country tune on the jazzy side of the river. A bonus track, "Down By The Riverside”, sounds like a grand parade is marching down Rampart Street with Nelson navigating this musical ship towards the heart of American music.
Two Men With The Blues serves as a testimony that the cultural gap between country music are separated only by a few degrees of the blues…