Willie Nelson

Healing Hands of Time

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Since 1978's Stardust, Willie Nelson recorded a number of standards collections. Healing Hands of Time is the most ambitious, in that it's the furthest from what might be expected of Nelson, but at the same time it's the closest to the "album of standards" formula employed by other artists. Unfortunately, it's also perhaps the least successful of Nelson's standards collections. The songs on the album are bathed in a lush wash of strings and low-key rhythmic instrumentation (arranged by David Campbell) that recalls the arrangements Nelson Riddle wrote for Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Linda Ronstadt. But rather than singing just pop standards, Nelson opts to include five country standards of his own composition, including "Crazy" and "Night Life." A sixth Nelson composition, "There Are Worse Things Than Being Alone," with an arrangement by Jimmy Webb, appears to be a new song. There are also four pop standards, including Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's "All the Things You Are." While it's interesting to hear Nelson tackle this genre, there are some significant shortcomings. Nelson's guitar -- his other voice -- is notable in its absence. While there's no faulting the playing of Reggie Young or Billy Joe Walker Jr., it's just not the same. Also, string-heavy standards albums are frequently dismissed as lacking swing, and this record is no exception. In fact, with Nelson's behind-the-beat phrasing, the songs sound even more stilted than they would in the hands of a less idiosyncratic singer. Nelson's ambition is admirable, but in execution, Healing Hands of Time is only partially successful.

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