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Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008

Willie Nelson

Moment of Forever (Lost Highway)

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Amiability forms part of Willie Nelson’s legend, but it hasn’t always served him well artistically. His willingness to work with just about anybody has resulted in a few of his finest moments (for example, 1998’s Teatro, produced by Daniel Lanois and featuring Emmylou Harris), but it has also led to many of his most profound embarrassments (such as his duet with Julio Iglesias, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”).

Moment of Forever is somewhere in between, and a portion of the blame for that might be shifted to neo-Nashville singer and songwriter Kenny Chesney, who coproduces the album with his producer of choice, Buddy Cannon. Surely they admire Willie, but they are just as attuned to the market as they are to Willie’s innate eccentricity.

The songs are less at fault: If the choices aren’t as wide-ranging as those on 2006’s lovely Songbird—produced by alt-country stalwart Ryan Adams—they do include many opportunities for Willie’s uniquely phrased interpretive ability. Randy Newman’s “Louisiana” and Kris Kristofferson’s title track stand among the album’s highlights.

But the production flattens highlights and low points alike into a sameness that is more suitable to Jimmy Buffett than to Willie Nelson. “Takin’ On Water” is blues without bite, “The Bob Song” a novelty of heavy-handed oddness, and “Worry B Gone” a Guy Clark gem turned into a “Prairie Home Companion” throwaway duet with Chesney. Even “Gotta Serve Somebody,” one of Bob Dylan’s better bornagain songs, gets a faux-funky treatment, complete with a soft-punch horn section that extracts all its teeth.

Willie does seem to be in fine voice, as both singer and songwriter: Age has barely touched his pipes, and “Over You Again” adds another notch to his wide belt of heartbreaking ballads. But Moment of Forever sounds more of the moment than it does of forever.