Willie Nelson

Rarities, Vol. 1

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Willie Nelson was a maverick in Nashville even before he became one of the faces of outlaw country and launched the commercial phase of his long career. He was first and foremost a gifted songwriter, and with his jazzy guitar style, songs like “Crazy” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” were light years away from three-chord country, edging into sophisticated pop-jazz territory, and Nelson’s singing was just as unique, with more croon than twang. This interesting set collects 11 early-'60s solo acoustic song demos and tacks on seven more sides with Nelson singing in front of small bands from the same time period. It’s all straight forward without much studio polish, and what comes through is the natural intimacy Nelson is able to project and convey when he performs. Among the solo pieces, “Waiting Time” and “If Only I Had Known” are both minor classics, while “Let’s Pretend We’re Strangers,” which features Nelson fronting a small country ensemble, would sound like a breath of fresh air if it were, by some miracle, being played on contemporary country radio.

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