Willie Nelson

You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker

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You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker finds Willie Nelson in comfortably familiar territory, which may come as a bit of a relief for those who found his 2005 reggae album Countryman an unwelcome detour. Indeed, with the possible exception of 2004's It Always Will Be, You Don't Know Me is Willie's purest country album in many a moon, and it's designed that way: it's a tribute to a songwriter who was one of the leading lights in Western swing at its peak. Cindy Walker's name may not be known to anybody outside of aficionados, but many of her songs became standards, including "Bubbles in My Beer," "Take Me in Your Arms," "You Don't Know Me," "Sugar Moon," "Cherokee Maiden," "Miss Molly," and "It's All Your Fault." Many of these tunes were popularized by Bob Wills, the King of Western Swing, whose influence on Nelson was profound -- indeed, he's covered Wills before, including "Bubbles in My Beer," which appeared on Shotgun Willie, and is revived here, along with all the previously mentioned tunes. Willie doesn't fix what wasn't broken -- although some of the slower songs do recall his quieter outlaw ballads, this is an exceptionally faithful record, especially on the up-tempo cuts. Nelson and his band know this material inside out, and it shows in the easy-rolling, relaxed, jazzy playing. It's hardly surprising, but that's what's good about it: after so many half-baked experiments and bad ideas, it's a joy to hear Nelson playing to his strengths. Nevertheless, this is a shade slight. As nice as it is that Willie is shining a spotlight on the underappreciated Cindy Walker, the very casualness of the performances, combined with Nelson's increasingly thin but still strong voice, makes this a little bit less than a major record, but that's fine: it's one that's easy to enjoy, and one of his few records of the 2000s that's worth returning to on occasion.

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