Countryman was first brainstormed by Don Was and Chris Blackwell way back in 1995 and was originally intended for release on Blackwell's Island Records. The idea of combining Willie Nelson's patented Texas glide with some one-drop Jamaican rhythms is certainly a novel one, but the chances of it working seemed as remote as George Jones hitting Kingston and toasting "White Lightning" over a choice dubplate at the local yard. You'd have to be crazy or high to think it would work. Well, this is Willie Nelson, after all, the man who wrote "Crazy" and has had more than his share of encounters with Texas locoweed, so all concerned figured, man, this'll be great, and work began on Countryman in 1996 with Don Was producing. The project almost immediately fell victim to label monkey business, and sat on Nelson's back burner for nearly a decade, until Lost Highway hired producer Richard Feldman to come in and finish it. It would be wonderful to say that Countryman has been worth the long wait. It would also be wonderful if Kingston and Nashville were sister cities, but there isn't enough ganja in the former or enough whiskey in the latter to make this hybrid Texas reggae idea work. Imagine Willie skanking over the top of a dub mix laced with steel guitar. No, really imagine it. Not even Toots Hibbert showing up to sing on Johnny Cash's "I'm a Worried Man" can make this work. To be fair, Nelson does a credible job on the two Jimmy Cliff tunes on Countryman, turning in strong, eerie, and atmospheric versions of "Sitting in Limbo" and "The Harder They Come," and he shines on his own 1960s song "Darkness on the Face of the Earth," which features a cute (sorry, no other word will do) little dub tail. But as a whole, the songs on Countryman sound woefully out of whack, neither good reggae nor good country, and if the experiment seemed like a super idea back in 1995, maybe someone should have simply rolled another one.
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
feat: Toots Hibbert