Review: Nelson, Haggard uninspired on 4th collaborative disc

Jun 2, 2015, 6:06 AM
This photo provided by Sony Music shows the album cover of "Django & Jimmie," (Sony Legacy) by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. (Sony Music via AP)
(Sony Legacy)

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, “Django and Jimmie” (Sony Legacy)

The two grand old men of country music, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, are among the last living ties to an era when giants like Ernest Tubb and Bob Wills filled honky tonks. Nelson is 82 and Haggard is 78, and while their warm voices show some mileage, their range of expression remains remarkable, and their phrasing often is impeccable.

On their fourth album together, “Django and Jimmie,” the feisty fellows lean on shuffling novelties and lighthearted swing, such as the title song, a tip of the cowboy hat to French guitarist Django Reinhardt and country blues pioneer Jimmie Rodgers.

“It’s All Going to Pot” playfully engages Nelson’s appetite for marijuana, and ranks as the album’s most memorable original. The two cherry-pick a few songs from their monumental catalogs, covering Nelson’s “Family Bible” and Hag’s “Swinging Doors” and “Somewhere Between,” like friends passing the guitar at home.

Most of the originals — “Unfair Weather Friend,” ”Live This Long” — don’t measure up to their classics, and the project would have benefited from better material. Hearing the old friends share lines on Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” indicates just how good “Django and Jimmie” could have been, if the two had approached the project with loftier ambitions.

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Review: Nelson, Haggard uninspired on 4th collaborative disc