There's an old axiom that Martin Scorsese often recites when explaining his career choices, citing that you first make a movie for the studio, then you make one for yourself. Willie Nelson has almost been following that creed while toiling away on Lost Highway in the 2000s, alternating between old-fashioned country records for his old fans, then star-studded collaborations aimed at a newer audiences. As Nelson is a musical omnivore, such stylistic hopscotch didn't feel forced, even when Willie ventured into such ill-advised experiments as the 2005 reggae excursion The Countryman, yet it nevertheless felt that he'd sing anything that came his way. Moment of Forever, the 2008 album produced by modern-day superstar Kenny Chesney and his longtime comrade Buddy Cannon, doesn't erase that impression, as it's wildly inconsistent in mood and material, finding room for sensitive songs from Kris Kristofferson and boorish tunes from Big Kenny, half of Nashville titans Big & Rich. Big Kenny's lazy, slobbering "The Bob Song" is everything that could go wrong with Willie singing a contemporary country record, suggesting that the very idea behind Moment of Forever -- to give Nelson his first full-fledged modern country album in eons -- is misconceived, but the album actually is far slyer than this misstep would suggest. Yes, this attempt at the Muzk Mafia's gonzo humor doesn't work, nor is it the only awkward moment here; it's paired with a moribund reading of Dave Matthews' "Gravedigger," where Willie valiantly attempts to navigate Matthews' twisting prose but to no avail. Both "The Bob Song" and "Gravedigger" are signs that Chesney and Cannon are in tune with modern markets that would be open to embracing Willie, so they work in conception if not execution. Fortunately, they're also in tune with much of the best of Nelson's music, giving him room to sing such finely modulated originals as "Over You Again" and "Always Now" (the latter balancing Chesney's slightly treacly "I'm Alive") and a lovely reading of Paul Craft's "Keep Me Blowing Away," but also letting Willie tell jokes, whether if it's in the guise of a loose, funny duet with Kenny on Guy Clark's "Worry B Gone" or "You Don't Think I'm Funny Anymore." These are the moments that give Moment of Forever heart, the moments that last once the overinflated R&B grooves of "Takin' on Water" and monochromatic jam on Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" pass, as they're the moments that flow easily and freely, and there are just enough of them to make Moment of Forever another solid Willie Nelson album, and perhaps one of the better contemporary-oriented ones of the past few years.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
feat: Kenny Chesney