Willie Nelson
Photo: Willie Nelson: Jim Herrington

America’s greatest living ballad singer is notoriously inconsistent — just listen to last year’s ghastly reggae experiment, Countryman. But Songbird, a collaboration with Ryan Adams (who produced and lent his backing band) is Willie Nelson’s finest in a decade. The sound is burly, surrounding his inimitable lilt with shuddering electric guitars. But the slow and stately stuff really sparkles, such as a weirdly menacing cover of ”Amazing Grace” and the new Nelson composition ”Back to Earth,” which proves the old troubadour can still write the best weepers around.

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