Carla Bozulich, former frontwoman of both Ethyl Meatplow and the Geraldine Fibbers does Willie Nelson? You bet your ass she does, and Nelson digs it. Just ask him -- he plays guitar on three tracks, and duets with Bozulich on a pair of tunes. Musically, Bozulich does a very faithful, if expressionist, reading of Nelson's bona fide classic concept album. His trademark nylon string picking on "Tome Of The Preacher" offers an aural view of just how faithful her reading is. But Bozulich has gone one further, too, recording the album as if it were written in the current day rather than in the 1970s: the dramatic soundscapes, aural textures, and subtle dissonances add a cinematic dimension to the text, making it reflect out from itself rather than be reiterated as a single person narrative. Nelson's version was large in scope because it was so insular, and Bozulich's is so intimate as to be nearly suffocating, because its vision is wider. With the help of Nelson, Nels Cline, Scott Amendola, Devin Hoff, Jenny Scheinman, her sister Leah, and others, Bozulich brings the notion of folk's "New Weird America" to the populace. There is an organic death to these songs as articulated in this way: just check the mournful droning tempo on the medley of "Time of the Preacher" with "Blue Rock, Montana," and the "Red Headed Stranger" theme. Guitars wind out minimally in maximal space. Her voice intones out over a desolate aural desert with the mournful weight of grief and history in its grain. Elsewhere, on Hank Cochran's "Can I Sleep In Your Arms" with Nelson, the pair bring a genuine amorous ache to the fore that transcends all genres of popular music. Likewise on the following cut, T. Texas Tyler's "Remember Me," sounds like Billie Holiday being channeled by Marlene Dietrich as Bozulich responds to Cline's gloriously narcotic jazz guitar intro, allowing the grief of love's loss to inhabit her spirit wholly. Nelson is back in true duet fashion on "Hands On the Wheel," and it as pretty as a soft, drunken love song can be as it takes the original narrative and turns it inside out ,and still comes up with something truly amorous, truly beautiful, and truly fragile. The album closes with Nelson's "Bandera," a haunting, wide-open country song that allows in its modality all sorts of room for improvisation, and the beginning of it is just that, before it becomes anchored in West Texas melodies as interpreted through Laurel Canyon's syntax. Bozulich has really accomplished something here, taking a classic work of true Americana and making it her own, no less mythological, no less transcendent, and yet ultimately something wholly new and embracing. Bozulich understands implicitly: legend is for extrapolation, and ultimately for re-visioning in a new place and time. As downtrodden and spiritually haunting as its predecessor, this new Red Headed Stranger is vital and necessary, a work of new Americana -- not the radio format, but the mythos itself.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek