To Willie is Brooklyn-based Matthew Houck's second album for independent label Dead Oceans. The album offers 11 versions of songs by country superstar Willie Nelson, more in homage than in interpretation. Houck lets his cracked world-weary voice, a voice that captured such finger-tingling beauty on his previous LP Pride, explore this medium to great effect. Evident also throughout the album are his enveloping ramshackle harmonies that worked so effectively on the previous outing, becoming almost a trademark at this point of Matthew's musical domain. These harmonies are employed sumptuously to the best extent on the later songs, most notably on Can I Sleep In Your Arms and The Party's Over.
Being unfamiliar with the original songs, I cannot offer a review of contrast, but on the strength of these covers the songs drift past without many noticeable discerning features.
It is an enjoyable drift though, and one to happily revisit time to time. Maybe, owing to my vast ignorance of most country music, the emotional gravitas of the songs is lost on me, but I cannot help but feel that I would much prefer to be listening to an album where Phosphorescent spreads his wings with original material.
The album To Willie is well crafted, done with good intention and is by all means well worth numerous listens. However, I look forward now with greater appetite to the next.
Review By Andrew Cooke