17 Songs, 47 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Naked Willie is a 17-track collection of songs Willie Nelson recorded for RCA Records between 1966 and 1970, “unproduced” by his friend and harmonica player Mickey Raphael to reveal the true essence of the material. The original recordings were embellished with orchestration and back-up singers that were an established element of the then prevalent “Nashville Sound” and completely at odds with the emotive instincts of Nelson’s music. The original results were often satisfactory yet sometimes absurd. Now, with Raphael going back to the original master tapes, the songs are stripped of their excess production touches and left with just the skeletal sounds of the band and Willie’s own expressive voice. An unorthodox singer, Nelson stands firmly at the center of these songs. “Jimmy’s Road” is stark and stunning. “The Party’s Over” is naturalistic. “Sunday Morning Coming Down” is spirited and perfectly reflective of the hangover it portrays. Hopefully, this idea — also used on the Beatles’ Let It Be…Naked — will catch on for many recordings that were sacrificed for the production values of the day.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Naked Willie is a 17-track collection of songs Willie Nelson recorded for RCA Records between 1966 and 1970, “unproduced” by his friend and harmonica player Mickey Raphael to reveal the true essence of the material. The original recordings were embellished with orchestration and back-up singers that were an established element of the then prevalent “Nashville Sound” and completely at odds with the emotive instincts of Nelson’s music. The original results were often satisfactory yet sometimes absurd. Now, with Raphael going back to the original master tapes, the songs are stripped of their excess production touches and left with just the skeletal sounds of the band and Willie’s own expressive voice. An unorthodox singer, Nelson stands firmly at the center of these songs. “Jimmy’s Road” is stark and stunning. “The Party’s Over” is naturalistic. “Sunday Morning Coming Down” is spirited and perfectly reflective of the hangover it portrays. Hopefully, this idea — also used on the Beatles’ Let It Be…Naked — will catch on for many recordings that were sacrificed for the production values of the day.

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Ratings and Reviews

4.4 out of 5
33 Ratings

33 Ratings

macportagee ,

Classic Willie

Classic Willie ala 1970's when the outlaw movement began. Some schmalz, but mostly well produced. If you are a Wilie Nelson fan, this is a must have.

joandjoe ,

Bring me Sunshine

Good swing version. Cute lyrices and Willie Nelson is in fine voice

hyperbolium ,

Willie’s Nashville-era work stripped to the studs

Nelson’s longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael “unproduced” these seventeen tracks from the original RCA multitrack masters, drawing material from 1967’s The Party’s Over and Other Great Willie Nelson Songs, 1969’s My Own Peculiar Way, 1970’s Laying My Burdens Down, 1971’s Willie Nelson & Family, and a few rarities, including the 1968 single “Bring Me Sunshine,” and the archive tracks “Jimmy’s Road” from 1968 and “If You Could See What’s Going Through My Mind” from 1970. The new mixes are stripped of strings and backing vocals, leaving Nelson’s voice up front of rudimentary arrangements of guitar, bass, piano and drums, and occasional flourishes of vibraphone, steel and organ.

Unfortunately, the notion that these de-sweetened versions get to the roots of the songwriter’s original vision is only half true, as Nelson and Raphael could only work with what was on the tapes, which includes unswinging Nashville-styled performances from studio A-listers. The basic tracks were purposely arranged as scaffolding upon which decoration was to be layered, distracting decoration perhaps, but decoration that was part of the original architecture. What’s left sounds unfinished, rather than the original root of something that was embellished. Even without the orchestration and backing chorus, Nelson’s vocals remain at odds with the backing players, confined by Nashville’s straight time, and unable to launch his idiosyncratic vocal stylings.

This would be less evident had Nelson not bucked Nashville’s constrictions and satisfied his muse across dozens of celebrated albums for Atlantic and Columbia. These de-produced versions are neither the intricately assembled, finished products of Nelson’s producers, nor the fleshed out visions of a singer-songwriter chafing against Nashville’s conventions. The Nashville studio players only hint at the emotional work that would back Nelson’s breakthrough efforts. Fans will enjoy hearing Nelson’s voice out front of these terrific songs, but the there isn’t true gold lurking beneath the orchestrations and backing vocalists, only a clearer picture of just how desperately Nelson needed to break free of Nashville’s way of doing things. 3-1/2 stars, if allowed fractional ratings. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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