Monday, September 04, 2017

Far From The Outlaw Minute-Willie Nelson’s Outlaws And Angels (2004 )-A Musical Film Review

Far From The Outlaw Minute-Willie Nelson’s Outlaws And Angels (2004 )-A Musical Film Review   

DVD Review

By Film Editor Sandy Salmon

Willie Nelson: Outlaws and Angels, starring Willie Nelson and a cast of outlaws like Merle Haggard and angels like Lucinda Williams and everything in between including a retired outlaw like Jerry Lee Lewis, 2004     

I freely admit that as a tough mean city streets New Jersey-bred guy I did not have anything like an “outlaw country music minute” back in early 1980s when traditional country music, Nashville-driven music by the likes of George Jones and say Loretta Lynn ran out of steam. Or out of ideas beyond whiskey nights, faded love, fast cars, fast women and good old boy foolishness. The time when guys like the central figure in this music video Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker and Townes Van Zandt and gals like Emmylou Harris and Rachel Farling stepped off that reservation and gave a new definition to the parameters of country music. Brought an updated beat, an update ethos and some quirky twists to the genre. In some cases as well living the real outlaw life, by approximating the free spirit life.        

My admission has a purpose since under normal circumstances I would not review a country music video having neither expertise nor interest in the genre. The only reason I have done so is as a favor to my old friend and fellow film critic from the American Film Gazette Sam Lowell who is my immediate predecessor at this site who actually did have a “outlaw country music minute.” Since he is in retirement and only wishes to review material periodically when something like say the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, 1967 sparks his interest. At least that was the story line he spun when he practically begged me to do this review. (I really think that he just wanted to see the expression “outlaw country music minute” used in a review here like he used to hammer endlessly on the “folk minute” of the early 1969s in a lot of his reviews).

That short flirtation was driven by the musical stalemate of those early 1980s when classic rock and roll had had one of its periodic fallow periods like it had in the late 1950s and Sam was looking for something interesting musically to listen to and maybe drive to wider critical notice. According to Sam he was snagged into the moment not by Willie Nelson but by Townes Van Zandt one night at Jackie Speed’s in of all places Harvard Square in Cambridge. Hardly a known Mecca for country music although well know back in the “folk minute” days of Sam’s blessed memory. He had appreciated Willie as outside the Nashville club (although Nelson had started in traditional 1950s Nashville fashion with Crazy made a big of by the premier woman traditional country singer of the time Patty Cline, who still has the best version of that classic). But something about the painful Van Zandt lyrics and rough-hewn sense of humor appealed to his strictly urban upbringing like there might be a bridge somehow.           

But on to the music DVD. This is the third in a series of Willie Nelson driven DVDs with various themes and various guest singers and hangers-on. This one took place in Los Angeles under the guise of outlaws and angels. The line-up was certainly filled with guys with outlaw reputations like Bob Dylan (who “mailed in” his duet with Willie on the Hank Williams classic “You Win Again” reportedly via YouTube being drunk on stage in the days when he used to drink), legendary Merle Haggard (who passed away in 2016), Kid Rock and Keith Richards among others. And gals like Lucinda William and Ricki Lee Jones who can make the real angels weep for their inadequacies. Overall though other than showing that Willie has a great command of the American (maybe world) songbook most of the performances were unremarkable. Except, and this is a big exception, when the ancient rock and roller Jerry Lee Lewis whose prime before that fallow time in the late 1950s previously mentioned who “stole” the show with his two songs. Leave it to a rocker to bail things out. You would grab this one for that performance.          

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