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Nelson and Adams, Spanning Eras Seamlessly

Willie Nelson's new collaboration with Ryan Adams mixes originals with well-chosen covers.
Willie Nelson's new collaboration with Ryan Adams mixes originals with well-chosen covers.

Country legend Willie Nelson and alt-country stalwart Ryan Adams would seem to make an odd pair, but neither Nelson nor his collaborator resemble anything normal in music-business or pop-culture terms. Besides, both are so prolific that their pairing seemed strangely inevitable, if only due to the law of averages.

Adams produced Nelson's new Songbird, which features his band The Cardinals alongside a couple of Nelson's longtime sidemen. A lot more wrong than right could have come out of this inter-generational collaboration, which features three songs written by Nelson, two by Adams and a well-chosen set of covers. But the set spans eras seamlessly and wonderfully: The album's title is taken from a Fleetwood Mac song, and includes covers by Gram Parsons ("$1,000 Wedding"), Leonard Cohen ("Hallelujah") and the traditional "Amazing Grace."

The standout cover here is the Grateful Dead ballad "Stella Blue," originally heard on Wake of the Flood. A concert favorite of Deadheads, the song doesn't seem like natural turf for Adams and Nelson, but the song plays out as a guitar-soaked country power ballad here, with Nelson digging into the vocal with longing and resignation as Adams lays down some serious guitar feedback, seeing the song to its sweetly emotional end.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Bruce Warren is assistant general manager for programming of WXPN in Philadelphia. Besides serving as executive producer of World Café, Warren also contributes to Paste magazine and writes for two blogs: Some Velvet Blog and WXPN's All About The Music Blog.