Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Willie and Wynton

There's something new happening at Mixed Meters: I'm getting offers of free things, review copies, freebies, swag - if I write about them.

First there was a comp ticket to Bloggers Night at the Ojai Music Festival. I didn't go but I did write about it. You can listen to what I wrote here.

I accepted a copy of Kenneth D. Ackerman's excellent book YOUNG J. EDGAR: Hoover, the Red Scare, and the Assault on Civil Liberties. I am reading that now and will write about it.

But the most amazing (and least appropriate) offer was for "Willie Nelson Wynton Marsalis; Two Men With The Blues". which goes on sale July 8. Under normal circumstances I would have absolutely no intention of listening to this album. Read this Mixed Meters post to find out how Willie Nelson drove me to buy my iPod so I would NOT have to listen to him at Starbucks.

Willie Nelson Wynton Marsalis Two Men with the Blues
My first mistake was telling Leslie about the offer. "I want it," she said jumping up and down like a pogo stick, "Please get it." I said no, but I made a counter offer. "I'll get the album if you write the review."

Leslie demurred to this generous proposition, saying that her training as a marine invertebrate taxonomist didn't qualify her to pen music reviews. So I made my second mistake - I sweetened the deal.

"If I get it, and you listen to it,"
I offered, "then I'll record your reactions in a conversation and fashion those into a blog post." She agreed.

I wrote back to John Lavallo (of Takeout Marketing in New York) and after a while a review copy of WNWMTMWTB arrived. I listened to it and Leslie listened to it. Then one day I recorded our discussion about the album.

Please note: I listened to it first but I tried not to color Leslie's opinions by telling her what I thought. Once she did tell me what she thought she asked for my reactions which were recorded also. I transcribed my words as well.

What follows is a heavily edited transcript. No names have been changed to protect anyone. Leslie's words are in purple and mine in brown.

Willie Nelson Wynton Marsalis Two Men with the Blues
LH: It was pleasant and entertaining. It's good. I liked it but I was disappointed. I expected it to be great. Instead it sounds like a bunch of friends sitting around and jamming on a bunch of favorite tunes. It's not what I'd hoped it would be.

I would expect a live concert to be better than a studio recording because you would catch the interplay between all the musicians. On this album you can hear them laughing - they clearly enjoy playing together - but it's not better.

Willie Nelson is one my absolute favorites. Across the Borderline - I just listen to that over and over and over. Same for some of Wynton's stuff. The two of them both have music for moods when I want quiet, moods when I want energy, for dancing, for being happy or just layin' back. Even the cool jazz, intellectual - when I'm sitting and thinking.
DO: I can hear Wynton having a cool jazz, intellectual side. You'd have to show me Willie Nelson's cool intellecutal side.
LH. Willie Nelson has written and performed some standards of American pop music that can stand up with anything, with whoever you consider a master, people like Cole Porter. He started off as a guy in a suit - he wrote top songs for Patsy Cline.

It's a fun album. Willie's singing is ... casual. Just sittin' back. It's like he was sitting on his front porch with these guys, relaxed and easy - not caring if there are a couple wrong notes. Just playing. Just having fun.

The solos of everybody combined ... it's all easy stuff for them. There's no stretching here. Licks that you've heard over and over again. And they're combined in familiar ways. This album is a conversation with a dear friend, one you enjoy very much, but it's not one that's going to stay in your memory.
DO: So you thought Wynton and Willie were on the same wavelength when they were playing.
LH: They blended pretty well for the most part. Kind of a honky-tonk slash New Orleans slash whatever feel to it.
DO: It's billed as Two Men With The Blues.
LH. Sounds awfully cheery for the blues.
DO: It's a really bright shade of blue?
LH: Kind of a teal or an aquamarine.
Willie Nelson Wynton Marsalis Two Men with the BluesLeslie asks my opinion.
DO: It was a fine album but completely undistinguished - except for the fact that Willie's singing, his delivery of the songs, drags the whole thing completely into the mud. As long as he wasn't singing it was pleasant to listen to.

But whenever he was singing I was cringing physically. He seemed to be missing the notes, forgetting the words and not using the same tempo as everybody else. Maybe he's just old at this point, maybe he was tired that night, maybe he thinks that's the way the blues ought to be sung, maybe I just don't get it. But I couldn't deal with his vocal delivery. I would never listen again because of that.
LH: I think his delivery has always been laconic - in a good way. He does a lot with a little. Maybe this isn't the right backing to bring that out as it does in some of his other songs.
DO: If the phrasing that I heard on this album was the phrasing of his idiom, then it was not appropriate to this group of sidemen. In that sense, his singing and the instrumentalists weren't really speaking to each other.

When Willie played the occasional guitar solo I thought he was fine. If he had just shut up and played his guitar I would have been a whole lot happier.

That's what I thought -- if this had been the album they were playing in heavy rotation at Starbucks I probably wouldn't have had quite as negative a reaction.

Anything more to say before I turn the tape off?
LH: Thank you for getting it for me, honey. I like it.
This album has its own website, willieandwynton.com
Willie Nelson has his own website: willienelson.com
Wynton Marsalis has his own website: wyntonmarsalis.com

Click this sentence to find blog reactions that are more positive.
I particularly like this review in Time - less than 75 words; not exactly a pan, but not a compliment either.

Two Men Tags: . . .

1 comment :

ericnp said...

I was flipping channels last night and bumped into the end of Jay Leno. The musical performance ending the show was mid song, I recognize Wyton but the guy with the beat up acoustic guitar had his head down whilst engaged in the most pitiful little guitar solo. Then I see the braided pigtails, then Willie lifts his face. That lackluster voice starts up, out of the face of death. I literally had a vision of Willie falling down dead. The reply by Wynton to the solo by Willie, the short banter--absolutely horrible and totally disconnected.

Then I started thinking about when Wyton's brother Branford was the conductor for the Tonight Show. He was getting shit from Wynton for selling out to the man and Bradford ended up kissing goodbye to the most kush gig of his career. How miserable; what a hypocrite.