PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Willie Nelson: Willie Nelson and Friends: Live and Kickin'

Steven Ward

Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson and Friends: Live and Kickin'

Label: Lost Highway
US Release Date: 2003-06-24
UK Release Date: 2003-07-14

Even though I wasn't aware of it at the time, I think I fell in love with music sometime when I was kid living in a small apartment in Metairie, Louisiana in the late '70s. My father loved to entertain. He and my mother always had parties or at least a few couples over for dinner, drinks and laughs. Every time people came over, my father blasted his stereo speakers with the sounds of Willie Nelson.

I can still remember hearing the opening guitar count off for the live version of "Whiskey River" from Nelson's Willie and Family Live album. It's a very pleasant memory -- something akin to the memory of someone waking up to the smell of frying bacon. But this memory is all about sound. Because of those memories, I bought a Willie Nelson greatest hits collection sometime in college and have been hooked ever since.

So I was excited to see the two-hour, USA Network television special on May 26, Willie Nelson and Friends: Live and Kickin'. Nelson was slated to perform with Ray Charles, Kenny Chesney, Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello, Wyclef Jean, Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Paul Simon, Shelby Lynn, ZZ Top, and a bunch of other superstars. Lost Highway Records has released a CD version of Nelson's 70th birthday television event. The superb sound quality and production of these live jams helps prove something I've suspected all along: Everybody, regardless of the musical genre they listen to most, loves the music of Willie Nelson. Everybody.

His songs are timeless, his voice is unmistakable, moody and heartfelt and his acoustic guitar playing is instantly recognizable. Sometimes people forget about that last fact. Nobody can make their acoustic guitar produce those thick-stringed, Mexican-flavored picking sounds Nelson is known for.

A couple of the songs on Live and Kickin' flat out knocked me on my ass. When Nelson and "A Song For You" writer Leon Russell sang alongside Ray Charles on Russell's song, I was floored. First, because I had never heard the song before -- one of the most beautiful love songs ever written. Second, because the voice of Ray Charles brought tears to my eyes. That's the same effect Charles had on Nelson when Charles sings the last verse and chorus. I watched Nelson tear up on TV and realized that music affects us all in the same, basic way. Shelby Lynn's version of "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" was another song that transcended the night, the event and the medium. Lynn's vocal emotion topped the night with rough, hard-living edges and velvety romantic flourishes.

Wyclef Jean and Nelson's reggae version of "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" was kind of sloppy. Jean's vocal mistakes tripped up Nelson a few times.

The biggest surprise of the night was Aerosmith's Steven Tyler dueting with Nelson on the Tyler penned, "One Time Too Many". Many could argue that Tyler is a soul singer masquerading as a '70s hard rock frontman, but I was absolutely convinced that Tyler could easily put as much emotion into a pure country song as any blues or heavy metal tune after hearing this CD's finale.

Nelson is a legend and this type of CD reminds me that he had just the same effect on some of rock and pop's most famous musicians as he had on me.

Thank you, Willie, and thank you, Dad.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.