Willie Nelson, “Live at Billy Bob’s Texas” (5/4/2004)

1. Whiskey River   2. Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)   3. Good Hearted Woman 4. Funny How Time Slips Away   5. Crazy   6. Night Life   7. Down Yonder   8. Workin’ Man Blues   9. Help Me Make it Through the Night   10. Me & Bobby McGee  11. Me & Paul   12. If You Got the Money, I Got the Time   13. Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain 14. Under the Double Eagle   15. Blue Skies   16. Georgia on my Mind   17. All of Me   18. Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys   19. Angel Flying too Close to the Ground   20. On the Road Again

Willie Nelson, Live at Billy Bob’s Texas (Smith Music Group)
by:  Steve Horowitz

I’ve seen some strange things happen at Willie Nelson concerts.  I once saw a husky, middle-aged man in bib overalls stand up and pour a pint of whiskey over his seated wife who raised her right fist in the air and shouted “Wa-hoo” as Willie sang “Whiskey River.”  I saw a man waving a large American flag jump from a second floor balcony during the middle of Willie singing, “Me and Paul.”  The crowd broke his fall and the man seemed unharmed as security led him away.  But there are several things one can always be sure of at a Willie show:  that he is going to play long and hard, that he’s going to sing several of his most famous self-penned, crowd-pleasaing songs like “Crazy,” “Nightlife” and “Funny How Time Slips Away,” that he’ll perform rousing renditions of country  and western classics by artists like Bob Wills, Hank Williams, and Lefty Frizzell as well as pop standards from the great American songbook like Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind,” and that the crowd will leave sated and happy.

Live at Billy Bob’s Texas captures the 70-year-old Willie at the self-proclaimed “World’s Largest Honky Tonk.”  Ably backed by his long-time road band, which features his siste r Bobbie on piano, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, Jody Payne on guitar, and Paul English on drums, Willie romps his way through his customary set with gusto.  As usual, Willie offers very little stage patter, only thanking the audience for its applause or briefly introducing a song, and plows through his repertoire like a corn farmer cultivating a field on a crisp spring morning.  Willie rips through all of the aforementioned songs and many other memorable cuts including Merle Haggard’s “Working Man’s Blues” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make it Through the Night” on his latest disc.  Willie somehow makes each song his own through his imitable vocal phrasing and guitar picking techniques.

Willie has become an American icon, recognizable for his long pigtails and bandanna.  He is familiar to folks who know his face from popular culture references (i.e. he’s visage has been featured in everything from Austin Power’s movies to television cartoon shows like “King of the Hill)” more than his music.  He’s also received just about every major music tribute there is, from Grammy and Country Music Association awards to Presidential honors.  Willie could very easy rest on his laurels and quit life on the road, but that wouldn’t be Willie.  He’s still out there regularly touring the country with his band by bus.  He plays hundreds of gigs a year and take pride in giving everyone his or her money’s worth.  This is what makes Live at Billy Bob’s Texas such a valuable document, because it captures Willie doing what he does best — performing before a large crowd of screaming fans.  He ends his set in the usual manner, by singing “On the Road Again.”  This is Willie’s way of reminding the audience that he’s a real troubadour going form place to place to make an honest living.

Live at Billy Bob’s Texas is also available as a DVD, which gives the viewer a first row seat at a Willie concert.  While it’s fun to watch, the audio performances offer plenty of entertainment to the listener.  I highly recommend the CD as good traveling companion to play in your car.  Willie knows how to make going down the road into a pleasurable experience. 

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