Tributes, hook-ups and jams with the famous are nothing new for Willie Hugh Nelson, but as he starts to live out the refrains of his beloved old favourites like "September Song" and "Stardust", the listener is permitted to indulge him a few poignant musical recollections. Closer to three score years and 10 than any man who spends so much time on the road has a right to be, ole Willie's stop-over at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville is not without a few creaky interludes—though these are due to the peculiar choice of some guests, rather than any fading of Nelson's eye.
Stars & Guitars won't ever figure in a long time fan's list of great Willie-isms. It might be churlish to deny artists like Sheryl Crow, Rob Thomas and Jon Bon Jovi the chance to bask in the reflected glory of the bandana'd balladeer, but their contributions to "Whiskey River", "Maria (Shut Up And Kiss Me)"and "Always On My Mind"won't trouble devotees of the originals.
Nelson is such a good-hearted type himself that he's prepared to let the youngsters take the plaudits. The concert is at its best when the forced professionalism of the hangers-on is replaced by genuine rawhide raggedness.
A truly blowsy version of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth", and an even more frayed take on The Rolling Stones'"Dead Flowers", complete with real star guitarist Keith Richards, are the must-hear moments. Lovers of old country and alt.country alike will also need to check out Nelson and old buddy Ray Price reprising the classic "Night Life", one of his darkest moments of the soul, an integrity-packed duet on Rodney Crowell's "Till I Gain Control Again"with the saintly Emmylou Harris, and a suitably smoky collaboration with Ryan Adams on "The Harder They Come".
Reservations aside, this item will be brought out on special occasions, even if it's followed immediately by some real Shotgun Willie.
Rating: 3 / 10