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He began work on the album in 1995 for Island Records, but the project was shelved after Universal bought Polygram, and Island founder Chris Blackwell left the company. It languished until Nelson moved to Lost Highway Records.

Produced by Don Was, who's worked with the Rolling Stones and Bonnie Raitt among others, the album includes reggae versions of Nelson songs such as "Darkness On the Face of the Earth" and "One in a Row." There also are covers of Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come" and "Sitting in Limbo," and a song called "I'm a Worried Man" by Johnny and June Carter Cash that Nelson recorded as a duet with Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals.

"When he (Cash) found out I was doing a reggae album, he said, 'Hey, I've got a reggae song that I wrote when I lived there,'" Nelson recalled. "Toots heard it and liked it."

That Nelson's country songs stand up so well to reggae's offbeat syncopation and upstroke guitar strums is a testament to their durability. Nelson said he recorded them about 10 years ago in Los Angeles with Jamaican musicians, including some from the late reggae star Peter Tosh's band.

"The musicians told me that reggae was invented really by listening to country music coming from the United States. They put their own rhythms to those tunes," he said.

While the music on "Countryman" might raise the eyebrows of country purists, so will the cover. With green marijuana leaves on a red and yellow background, the cover art makes the CD look like an oversized pack of rolling papers.

The marijuana imagery reflects Jamaican culture, where the herb is a leading cash crop and part of religious rites, but it also reflects Nelson's fondness for pot smoking.

If any country star can get away with marijuana leaves on a CD, it's Nelson. Besides being an innovator and leading figure in American music, he's also been a rebel and outlaw.
Willie Nelson - "Countryman"

 What's stranger: Willie Nelson singing lilting reggae melodies, or a Jamaican chestnut like "The Harder They Fall" set to an acoustic country arrangement, complete with Dobro? Given Nelson's well-publicized taste for ganja, it's not surprising he's also fond of the island's major musical export. The genre-straddling Countryman, replete with dub effects, skanking beats, ringing steel guitars, and Nelson's signature nylon-string picking, doesn't measure up to his earlier, artful Lost Highway releases. It's easy to understand why this project was shelved by Nelson's previous label for nine years. There are no musical sparks, and the buoyant rhythms trivialize the strong lyrics of Nelson classics like "Darkness on the Face of the Earth." But his voice is still mellow gold, and there are tunes--like his duet with reggae/R&B singer Toots Hibbert on Johnny Cash's "I'm a Worried Man" and his own somber reading of Jimmy Cliff's "Sitting in Limbo"--that tap into the souls of desperate men to extol the power of faith over adversity.  --Ted Drozdowski - Amazon.com

Check out some tracks at The Club Tropical Page

Alternative "Palm Tree" cover for Wal-Mart

Universal Music Group Nashville is substituting palm trees for the marijuana leaves on CDs sold at the retail chain Wal-Mart, a huge outlet for country music that's also sensitive about lyrics and packaging.

"They're covering all the bases," Nelson joked.

After nearly a decade of gestation, Willie Nelson’s long-lost, and first, reggae set is at last complete. The seed of this project took root in late 1995, sprung from the mind of famed producer Don Was. Nelson and his manager Mark Rothbaum flew to Jamaica to meet with Island Records president and founder Chris Blackwell. Don had been speaking with both Blackwell and Nelson about the prospect of creating a reggae-infused country album and both men were intrigued. Blackwell was the ideal collaborator. Not only was he the person who introduced rock audiences to the world of reggae but likewise introduced them to Bob Marley. As a versatile, well-connected music aficionado, he could realize this marriage of country and reggae the way few others could.

In fact, the two genres are compatible in many ways, and not as distant stylistically as one might initially imagine. Toots Hibbert proved it with his triumphant version of "Country Roads" and the renown reggae group the Melodians were the first to turn the gospel/bluegrass classic "Rivers of Babylon," (also previously covered by Willie) into a full-on reggae classic. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that reggae is sometimes referred to as Jamaica’s "country music," being that both forms have drawn similar lyrical content from everyday matters and share a foundation in spiritual and gospel music. Countryman is Willie’s impassioned tribute to the upstroke sound of Jamaica, an irie voyage to the land of dub and dreadlocks. Willie takes a handful of his own classics and filters them through a reggae prism, peppering them with his nylon acoustic guitar, pedal steel, dobro, harmonica and the familiar comforts of country, while bringing drums and bass to the forefront, yard style.

 So, after a journey lasting over a decade, Willie’s Jamaican vision at last sees the bright light of day. While it’s just one in a long line of hyphenated hybrid projects the versatile genius has created over the years, this Countryman feels, by the sound of it, genuinely comfortable amid the island breezes of Jamaica.

Village Voice:  Willie's music is comfortable in any world. An easy, inevitable build that testifies to the glories of musical sincerity.

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