These are tunes for tough times: Willie Nelson singing Western Swing is bound to bring a smile. The genre became popular during the Depression and still has plenty of life, as "Willie and the Wheel" shows.
The late and legendary producer Jerry Wexler came up with the idea 30 years ago to pair Nelson with swing tunes, but it was 2007 before work on the album began with help from Ray Benton, leader of the Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel.
Wexler suggested material and the use of horns, which makes the album a natural progression from Nelson's excellent 2008 collaboration with Wynton Marsalis. Happily, Wexler heard session tapes of "Wheel and the Wheel" before his death.
Many of the songs were originally done by Bob Wills or Milton Brown, and arrangements geared to the dance hall allow plenty of room for pickin' and plunkin' and tootin'. Nelson fits right in with his swoops, scoops, jazzy phrasing and singspeak. The man would have been a star in the 1930s, and he may still be one in the 2030s.
CHECK IT OUT: The instrumentalists reach dizzying heights on "Won't You Ride In My Little Red Wagon," with a 96-bar break that features piano, trumpet, fiddle and -- best of all -- steel guitar whiz Eddie Rivers.