After establishing himself as a major Nashville songwriter (he wrote "Crazy" for Patsy Cline, among others), Willie Nelson signed his first serious artist contract at RCA in 1964. At that time, the producers and A&R men l... more »ike Chet Atkins were boss. Singers weren't allowed to select arrangements, musicians, studios - any of the key factors in making the records the artist has in mind. Willie was constantly frustrated by the syrupy strings, vocal group choruses and generally "slick" final product. Fast forward to 2008. Willie and long-time harmonica player Mickey Raphael are casually wondering what those records would or could sound like if only the multi-track tapes could be tracked down and the songs re-mixed with the original intent in mind. Gone are the strings and gangs of back-up singers. Gone, in fact is most of the production that always "ruined" the songs. NAKED WILLIE is a new collection of 17 vintage RCA sides - spanning 1966-1970 - FINALLY the Willie way.« less
After establishing himself as a major Nashville songwriter (he wrote "Crazy" for Patsy Cline, among others), Willie Nelson signed his first serious artist contract at RCA in 1964. At that time, the producers and A&R men like Chet Atkins were boss. Singers weren't allowed to select arrangements, musicians, studios - any of the key factors in making the records the artist has in mind. Willie was constantly frustrated by the syrupy strings, vocal group choruses and generally "slick" final product. Fast forward to 2008. Willie and long-time harmonica player Mickey Raphael are casually wondering what those records would or could sound like if only the multi-track tapes could be tracked down and the songs re-mixed with the original intent in mind. Gone are the strings and gangs of back-up singers. Gone, in fact is most of the production that always "ruined" the songs. NAKED WILLIE is a new collection of 17 vintage RCA sides - spanning 1966-1970 - FINALLY the Willie way.
+1/2 -- Willie's Nashville-era work stripped to the studs
hyperbolium | Earth, USA | 03/23/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Nelson's longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael "unproduced" these seventeen tracks from the original RCA multitrack masters, drawing material from 1967's The Party's Over and Other Great Willie Nelson Songs, 1969's My Own Peculiar Way, 1970's Laying My Burdens Down, 1971's Willie Nelson & Family, and a few rarities, including the 1968 single "Bring Me Sunshine," and the archive tracks "Jimmy's Road" from 1968 and "If You Could See What's Going Through My Mind" from 1970. The new mixes are stripped of strings and backing vocals, leaving Nelson's voice up front of rudimentary arrangements of guitar, bass, piano and drums, and occasional flourishes of vibraphone, steel and organ.
Unfortunately, the notion that these de-sweetened versions get to the roots of the songwriter's original vision is only half true, as Nelson and Raphael could only work with what was on the tapes, which includes unswinging Nashville-styled performances from studio A-listers. The basic tracks were purposely arranged as scaffolding upon which decoration was to be layered, distracting decoration perhaps, but decoration that was part of the original architecture. What's left sounds unfinished, rather than the original root of something that was embellished. Even without the orchestration and backing chorus, Nelson's vocals remain at odds with the backing players, confined by Nashville's straight time, and unable to launch his idiosyncratic stylings.
"I have been a fan of Willie Nelson for many years, but I have never been a fan of the "Nashville sound" of the 1960s. This compilation takes away the distracting string sections and vocal choruses, and leaves Willie and his band - pure, simple, and to the point. These uncomplicated tracks sound clean, with a good balance on the mix. You can hear nuances that were buried in the original mixes.
I found it interesting that five of the songs on this compilation were originally released on "Laying My Burdens Down." It would be great to hear the rest of that classic RCA album produced in this same style, along with "My Own Peculiar Way," "Willie Nelson & Family" and other early RCA titles. Please give us MORE!!!"
cordell jeffries | webster groves, mo | 04/17/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Willie Nelson remains one of the most overcompilationified recording artists around. We've all seen his "Greatest" and his "Essential," never mind the 4,942 budget "Best of" compilations. It's enough to make any fan skeptical about any collection bearing his name.
But Naked Willie rises above most, if not all, of them. It's as essential as Red Headed Stranger, and that's seriously high praise.
Like Red Headed Stranger, Naked Willie is built on a theme. However, the theme here is related to how the material literally sounds versus its subject matter.
In this case, the theme is simply what would his songs would've sounded like were he the producer back in the 1960s and early 1970s. Back then, country stars small and big alike were given the high-gloss "Nashville sound" treatment made famous (never mind insanely popular) by Chet Atkins.
Don't get me wrong; the Nashville sound is almost always recognizable and quite often fantastic. But for every artist who was helped by all the extra strings, horns and vocals, there were those whose efforts were diminished by them. Willie Nelson clearly falls into the latter, and this CD is all about the magic that happens once those layers are stripped away. Leaving the music "naked," and yes, inspiring the CD's title.
The results are nothing short of glorious. Here, the songs are what is brought to the fore, plain and simple -- Willie and the hired hand musicians playing their brains out....Willie's vocal skills perhaps at their absolute peak....playful tunes...sad tunes...even some subjects that some could call "controversial."
Kudos to the producer and audio engineer who handled all the "unproduction" needed to make this such a treat.
I am only a "medium" Willie Nelson fan; this was a gift to me. It completely caught me off guard -- in a good way -- and i think this would be an outstanding gift for just about anyone, Willie zealot or not.
Of course, for all you hardcore Willie zealots (pun intended), the CD booklet has two -- count 'em, two -- pictures of Mr. Nelson himself in the bathtub...also naked. But don't worry: There are no John&Yoko moments here. Just an absolute legend having some fun in a bubbly tub, pleased that some of his greatest music will finally be heard the way he'd always intended for it to be. Naked."
"Un-produced" Early Willie - good stuff!!
William Merrill | San Antonio, TX United States | 03/29/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I thought it was interesting to listen to the original recordings of these songs and then the new versions back-to-back. (If you don't own the original albums - as I don't - several of the originals can be found on the recent box set "One Hell of a Ride.") As others have noted, these remixes really allow the backing instruments to emerge, and even shift the melody's feeling and mood of the song. On "The Party's Over," for example, the removal of choruses and strings allows the pedal steel more room to breathe, and the new mix more properly fits the song's downcast spirit. The revised version of "I'm a Memory" now sounds more like a Glen Campbell country-pop tune, where the 1970 original sounded more schmaltzy and Bacharach-esque. The remixes have been "cleaned up" and really sound great, although I wonder if they could have taken out that last bit of reverb on the vocals that still haunts a few numbers such as "Bring Me Sunshine." (maybe??) Speaking of the vocals, I'm amazed that these vocals recorded four decades ago sound so similar to the way Willie sings today. There are a few subtle differences, but still incredibly similar!!
Besides all the comparisons between then and now, I appreciate how the songs on Naked Willie stand alone as simply good songs, ageless and enjoyable. If he had released this CD as an album of new songs, it would be one of his best in years. Several of them are true "near-forgotten gems," such as the beautiful "I Just Dropped By." The CD also has a nice mix of up-tempo and slower tunes."
Hear Willie a whole new way
WriteOneWriteNow | 03/26/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Born and bred in the Lone Star State, my affection for Willie Nelson is genetic. But while I'm a long-time Willie fan, I'm not an aficionado. And I'm also a fan of the old-time Nashville sound, the kind Willie wanted to get away from, but the kind that reminds me of the music I heard at my grandparents' home where they also watched Lawrence Welk and Hee-Haw.
It took me a couple of listens to Naked Willie to really appreciate this CD. What was startling to me was how different his phrasing and intonation were when he cut the records featured.
So it took me those first set of listens to get over how different the Willie I know is from the Willie he used to be. It was kind of like hearing a familiar voice that you just can't place right off. I wish I knew if the changes in his singing voice came as he aged or was his singing style directed by the label or custom of the times? Voice-wise, how did Naked Willie get to be the Red Haired Stranger I grew up with?
It's good stuff and makes me want to hear the material as it was originally presented, partly because I miss my grandparents."