Usually these "cast of thousands" type albums just blend it an overboiled tasteless paste...so much "input" is added that the artist's style disappears, gauzed over by the producer into a faceless project that could have been anyone. Thankfully, this is NOT the case here. Don Was makes a thicker sound for Willie here but stops short of filling the tracks with so many sonic bells and whistles that Willie's greatest asset...that solid interpretive voice of his...gets lost. Indeed, Was' great taste shows in use of touches that sound like they wouldn't work (for example, a muted jazzy trumpet courtesy of Mark Isham on Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up") that end up enhancing the songs. Most of the songs here are Willie covering songs of others with quite a few guest vocalists (Sinead O'Connor, Sinead O'Connor, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt) on tap. The band backing Willie is crack also (Jim Keltner, Mark O'Connor, Benmont Tench,John Leventhal,Johnny Gimble at times). A minor complaint might be that several interesting duets DON'T happen. Willie does a John Hiatt and a Lyle Lovett tune, but they don't sing on the cuts. (Nor does Paul Simon on either of the 2 songs of his Willie does here, though he does play guitar.)
Though Bonnie Raitt's appearance here is probably a result of Was' recent collaboration with her (he produced her big comeback album "Nick of Time"), her smoky latenight bar voice and slide are the perfect compliment on "Getting Over You". Sinead O'Connor, surprisingly, turns out to be a good vocal pairing as well. Their harmonies on the last verse of Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" sparkle, and the arrangement recasts it as the country tale of the distressed workingman that the lyric always was. The title track's saga of a Mexican casting his eyes toward the "broken promised land" of the U.S. benefits from Kristofferson's harmonies, though they could be higher in the mix. Nelson's interpretations of Dylan's "What was it You Wanted?" and Lovett's "Farther Down the Line" and "If I Were the Man You Wanted" are also great. Of the numbers penned by Nelson himself, the brisk "Still is Still Moving to Me" and tender "Valentine" fare best.
Willie turns in a curiously dispassionate reading of Willie Dixon's classic blues "I Love the Life I Live" though the musical backing is nicely relaxed. I consider myself a Dylan fan, though his voice is at its croakiest for "Heartland" making it a track I skip by.
Another fine performance from Nelson is made somewhat more contemporary by the collaborations here, though he's not made to play second-fidddle (as Carlos Santana was on his recent album with Rob Thomas and others). Nelson is clearly the star here and the production by Was recognizes that fact. A good one for Nelson fans and for those just learning about him.