Album: Willie Nelson, Stripped (RCA)

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The Independent Culture

While his growing success as a songwriter – thanks to hits like Patsy Cline's "Crazy" – was enough to win Willie Nelson a recording contract of his own in 1964, it wasn't enough to secure him control over the way his songs were treated.

In those days, the saccharine "Nashville sound" dominated country music, so producers routinely ladled soupy strings and corny choirs over everything, regardless of the material or the performer. In Willie's case, their jarring incongruity effectively crippled his career: it wouldn't be until he left RCA over a decade later that he would score a hit album, significantly with the stripped-down Red Headed Stranger. Over four decades later, his harmonica player Mickey Raphael has "un-produced" some of these original RCA tracks to leave just the small combo backings – a restoration process which works to the benefit of songs such as "The Party's Over" through leaving Willie's voice more nakedly vulnerable. In some cases, the removal of all the high-register elements tends to overbalance the mix, while in others it leaves his quiet baritone stranded – an effect which actually works to the benefit of "The Ghost" and the anti-war tract "Jimmy's Road", where the stark beauty of the reduced palette matches the sombre subjects perfectly.

Download this: "The Party's Over", "I Just Dropped By", "The Ghost", "Jimmy's Road"