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Willie + T Bone = Country Music

Do you ever give much thought to what goes into titling an album? Who does it? What are the boundaries? What’s the difference between a lame name and one that’s inspired? How much does a title matter?

Think about Bob Dylan’s 1966 masterpiece Blonde on Blonde, the apex of his surreal “thin, wild mercury sound” and as heady a blend of pop and avant-garde sensibilities as ever hit the Top 10. So why is it tagged with a title that would seem suited to a Hollywood beach movie?

One of most iconographic appellations in music history – “The White Album” – isn’t the album’s title at all, but rather the nickname Beatles fans came to favor over the minimalist (and barely visible) actual title, The Beatles.

Which brings us to Willie Nelson’s exceptional new collection, Country Music. You can’t be much more to the point than that. But if any living figure can appropriate the handle of an entire musical genre, it would be Nelson, whose name belongs with a small handful of giants when the roll of country’s all-time greats is recited.

The T Bone Burnett–produced album harkens to the kind of music coming out of Nashville when Nelson was a young songwriter half a century ago. Accompanied by traditional instrumentation (mandolin, banjo, fiddle, steel guitar) and drawing from the repertoires of golden-age greats (Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Merle Travis, Ray Price), Nelson edifies and entertains with characteristic grace and style. Willie is the quintessential could-sing-the-phone-book kind of guy, but here he’s putting his heart and soul into bulletproof classics. All Willie Nelson albums are worthwhile, but this is one of the greats.

As for that title? It’s grand without being aggrandizing, direct without being brusque. Just like the man; just like the music.

(P.S. If you like what you hear on Willie’s latest, the next time you’re at Starbucks keep an ear open for an appropriate companion piece – Good Ol’ Nashville, our overview of Music City USA in the ‘50s.)

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