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Music DVD Review: Willie Nelson Live in Austin

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I can remember evenings with my grandparents spent by the radio, my grandmother explaining to me who Hank Williams was, who George Jones is, and that her favourite song of all time was a blue grass tune called Maple Sugar. I remember the smell of her cooking, the taste of tea with sugar, and I remember wood smoke in the stove. I was allowed to stay up late and watch the Grand Ole Opery and the Statler Brothers. On Sunday evenings we would listen to the bluegrass hour on the local AM station, AM 60 – CKCL. I was raised on country music.

Today as I listen to everything from Hank Williams to The Tragically Hip to Louis Armstrong and everything in-between, I realize I have to thank my grandparents. Introducing me to music at such a young age has made me constantly search for more. Country music has led me to all music.

I am not the biggest country fan around these days. I don’t like the way country music is going, I think it celebrates ignorance and many other things I don’t support; but, at one time country was something very different and if it was not for artists like The Dixie Chicks, I think I would abandon modern country music all together.

Willie Nelson is an artist I still have respect for. Willie has stuck to his guns and although I’m not a huge fan I respect what he is trying to do and I respect the fact that he has remained true to himself and his art, even when he wasn’t always the most popular man around.

New West Records has just released a new DVD, Willie Nelson, Live from Austin TX. The show was recorded on the 6th of September, 1990 and is just being released now in 2006. Willie hasn’t changed a bit. The music in 1990 is the same music he played in the 1970s and it is the same music he plays today. Willie Nelson is in fact timeless.

As I mentioned, I am not exactly a card carrying Willie Nelson fan, but I truly enjoyed watching this DVD. In the first place the DVD is packaged very nice. The colours, font, and the lay out throughout both the case and the DVD are well done. The menu is very simple, user friendly, and appealing in appearance. The back of the DVD case is laid out very well, clean, and useful. All these factors gave me a good impression right away.

The footage itself is also great. I was impressed by the quality of the video. It is the 1990s, so one must keep in mind that the fashion is completely out of date, but the camera angles and the sound is really good.

Willie backs himself with a really good band; I think this factor cannot be ignored. Although these slack jawed pickers and players are kind of boring to watch, they are talented musicians. Willie is also a talented individual himself. He has a way to make you concerned with him, he is interesting to watch.

Standing up there like an old cowboy turned hippy, Willie wears his black hat, bandana around his neck, sleeveless shirt, gold earring, and sneakers. His long greasy hair and stained beard give him the appearance of a man on tour since his feet hit the ground. His eyes look deep and his voice says “I’ve been around; I’ve seen shit you haven’t.” His guitar has a hole in it, it sounds like hell and at the same time sounds so good. He moves, sings, plays, and smiles in a way that draws you in. This may be his key to success. If Willie Nelson is in the room you are going to watch him, he is one of the most intersecting characters of our time. He is an icon of America.

As for the songs he chooses to perform, they are ok. He does an interesting cover of “Me and Bobby McGee” and also makes a really neat melody out of “Funny”, “Crazy” and “Night Life.” Throughout the session Willie and the band perform a few really fun bluesy jams that I really like and his cover of “Milk Cow Blues” (accompanied by Shelby Lynne) is likely the best cover I have ever heard of this song, even better then George Strait! Sorry George!

However, as for the rest I am not overly impressed. The songs are typical songs about getting around, living life, cheating women and drinking. When Willie Nelson sings these songs I don’t fully believe him, he has better songs. Johnny Cash sang songs about seeing hard times and getting around and I believed him, I don’t believe Willie; but, I do believe he has the “Milk Cow Blues.”

If you are a Willie Nelson fan and think you would like to have a performance in your DVD collection, I highly recommend this one. It is 1990, so it is dated, but it is timeless Willie and it is a quality DVD.

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About Craig Johnson