Reggae is Willie Nelson's latest trick. He's turned a few others, like tackling the Great American Songbook on Stardust and releasing duets albums, most recently The Great Divide. Here, he offers a disc that began to take shape 10 years ago. It goes down easy.
Produced by Don Was (who helmed Across the Borderline, one of Willie's best '90s albums), Countryman features Nelson's wonderful nasal voice, a duet with King Maytal Toots Hibbert, two contradictory covers of Jimmy Cliff tunes (the good one is "Sitting in Limbo"), and a passel of Nelson originals. Twang and ganja twine nicely here, even though the reading of Cliff's "The Harder They Come" is perfunctory, and most of the originals don't stick.
Still, Countryman has its charms. Was lends Nelson satisfying horn touches, the drums pop with precision, the background singers are fine, and the authenticity is unmistakable. Toots Hibbert reggaefied country way back by skanking through John Denver's "Country Roads." Here, he does it all over again with Nelson on Johnny Cash's "I'm a Worried Man."
You probably won't find yourself humming much of this, or recalling many lyrics. But it's a pleasant enough summer album.