Songbird may not be the first time Willie Nelson seems to have phoned in his performance while barely awake, knowing that the results will satisfy at least some of his fanbase; but this a particularly disappointing example. Produced by Ryan Adams, and backed by Adams's band The Cardinals, Songbird should have been a smartly turned-out country-rock album showcasing more left-field songwriting than usual, but in the event only Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and Gram Parsons' "$1000 Wedding" have anything like the stature to surmount the lackadaisical treatment meted out here even to Nelson's and Adams's own material, while songs such as the title track and "Stella Blue" - so engaging in the hands of Fleetwood Mac and The Grateful Dead respectively - just flop limply. The success of "Hallelujah" is mainly due to the right combination of voice and material, Nelson's grainy baritone scaling the changes with due epiphanic gravitas. And "$1000 Wedding" would still break hearts at a hundred paces if it was sung by Joe Dolce.
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