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Record Review 

At this point in his career, Willie Nelson can do whatever he wants. Hell, he pretty much has been doing his own thing since he started over 40 years ago. Two recent releases are clear examples of Nelson's artistic freedom and immense talent, and both work on two different levels. Me and the Drummer is a collection of Nelson's classic country tunes, re-recorded with his first band, the Offenders. Featuring singer Johnny Bush (who wrote "Whiskey River") on drums and the late Jimmy Day on pedal steel, Nelson delivers his most straight-up country album in years. Stripped down, the 13 songs get better with each listen, with particular standouts being the shuffling "I'm So Ashamed," and the tender take of "I Guess I've Come to Live Here in Your Eyes."

Having done the torchy stuff, a symphonic album, and with a reggae album sitting in the can somewhere, Milk Cow Blues is Nelson's first "official" blues album. Covering a number of standard blues tunes and revamping (minimally) some of his own material, Nelson is joined by a "who's who" of contemporary blues artists. Jamming with the legendary guitarist B.B. King and young guns Johnny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Nelson holds his own in the picking department. His vocal guests include Atlanta's own Francine Reed on a show-stealing "Funny How Time Slips Away," and the smooth Dr. John on "Black Night" and "Fools Paradise". It's clear throughout the disc that Nelson is having fun with the guests and the material, but what becomes most obvious is just how much the blues have influenced his music. Milk Cow Blues is hardly a stretch for Nelson, as he has been playing the blues all his life. For some reason, it was just called country.

Willie Nelson plays the Classic Center in Athens, Sat., Oct. 21.

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