Record Review - 2 August 15 2001

Ever wonder what it would be like to sit around at Willie's place, picking and grinning with the family? Well, now you can find out on his latest release, Rainbow Connection. Musically and vocally supported by both family and friends, it is a loose, informal and imperfect collection of tunes that are obvious staples of the Nelson household. Originally conceived as a children's record by his daughter Amy, Nelson has turned the concept into a song cycle that begins with a few songs about childhood, moves through the wild and wooly days of a wayward young man and ends with a dark reading of Mickey Newbury's "The 33rd of August".

Following Nelson's near-perfect Teatro, the pure honky-tonk of Me and the Drummer and the all-star loaded Milk Cow Blues, the new album is a marked departure in a number of ways. Recorded with minimal acoustic accompaniment and an occasional rousing chorus of hangers-on, Nelson is all over the place with the material. From the classic "Won't You Ride in my Little Red Wagon," to the absurd but hilarious "I'm My Own Grandpa," he throws a little bit of everything into the mix. The only original composition is the nicely done "Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way," but the cover of Newbury's "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition my Condition Was In)" becomes Nelson's song, just as he has done with so many others. Allowing Amy to sing lead on a couple of tunes makes the "family" aspect of the record all the stronger, and some nice guitar work by Gabe Rhodes suggests that the young man has picked up a few of Willie's tricks.

While it may not be Nelson's best effort, or even come close to the powerful song cycle of his 1970 release Yesterday's Wine, Rainbow Connection gives the listener a taste of the informal Nelson party style, and it's a pretty fun place to be.

Willie Nelson plays Chastain Park Amphitheatre Sun., Aug. 19.??