It was just a matter of time before Willie Nelson cut a record with fellow Texan legends Asleep at the Wheel: Willie may duet with anybody who wanders onto his bus, but he and the Wheel have a shared background in Western swing, a background they explore thoroughly on 2009's Willie and the Wheel. If it seems like Willie and the Wheel should have cut an album together a little earlier than 2009, well, they almost did. During Nelson's seminal stint at Atlantic in the early '70s, producer/label head Jerry Wexler urged Willie to record a duet album with the Wheel, but Nelson left the label before it could happen. The idea was revived when Wexler saw Asleep at the Wheel open for Nelson in 2007 and soon enough, the two parties got together to run through a bunch of standards. Surprise isn't the order of the day on Willie and the Wheel; it's pretty easy to guess the songbook just based on the collaboration and sure enough, there's a hefty dose of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys -- "Right or Wrong," "Bring it on Down to My House," "Corrine Corrina" -- and a bunch of Milton Brown, Cliff Bruner, and Spade Cooley. Chances are, many of the songs would have remained the same if this had been cut back in the early '70s, but the spirit is much different. Back then, the teaming would have been the sound of young insurgents creating their own bridge to the past, but this is the sound of the old guard settling in and doing what they do best, laying back instead of pushing forward, enjoying each other's company instead of gearing up for a cutting contest. While it's possible to discern some tattered edges on the fringe -- in particular, Willie's voice can sound a bit gruff and rough -- this is as comfortable and welcoming as a familiar old leather jacket. It's no surprise that it feels good.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine