Not bad for 75 years. It would take most artists two lifetimes to catch up to the output of wildly prolific Willie Nelson, and even then it’s inconceivable that anyone would leave a greater legacy. At first glance, the aptly titled box set One Hell of a Ride (Columbia Legacy) seems like something more suited to Hootie and the Blowfish. Only four CDs to represent such a massive body of work? An American icon doesn’t deserve more-deluxe packaging? (See our own tribute.) To be fair, given the state of major labels, lavish collections may be gone forever. And really, there is much to admire about the set. It pulls from every imaginable source and era: a self-financed 1957 single, the Houston sessions that produced “Nite Life,” the groundbreaking Jerry Wexler recordings, schmaltzy Chet Atkins productions from the RCA years, the myriad circuslike Family Band live tapes, the Liberty sessions that produced the “Hello Walls”/“Funny How Time Slips Away”/“Crazy” trifecta, and even a mid-fifties demo sent to Luling’s Sarg records. Buying this is a no-brainer. It may be Willie’s birthday, but true to form, he’s the one giving the gifts.
From the May 2008 Issue Subscribe