Wille Nelson & At The Wheel © KLRU photo by Scott Newton

Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel

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Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel Season 35 by Billy Perkins

Singer-songwriter author, poet and actor, Willie Nelson rose to national stardom during the outlaw country movement of the 1970s, but has remained both a musical and cultural icon through the decades. Since their inception in 1970, Asleep at the Wheel has won nine Grammy Awards, released more than 20 studio albums and have charted more than 20 singles on Billboard’s country charts. Tonight these country legends grace the Austin City Limits stage performing songs from their newest release, Willie and the Wheel.

The concept of Nelson and Ray Benson’s troop recording classic Western swing tunes together goes back to the early 70s, when Willie was on Atlantic Records and championed by legendary producer/A&R man Jerry Wexler. Willie’s tenure with Atlantic was brief and the project didn’t come together until this decade, when a retired and ill Wexler called Benson to revive the idea. Armed with a stack of old LPs donated from Wexler’s personal collection, complete with the initials “WN” penciled in by certain tracks, the musicians completed Willie and the Wheel in time for Wexler to hear it before he passed on. “Jerry wanted us to do this album and I’m glad we got to do it for him,” said Nelson.

And critics are also glad they decided to do the CD. Willie and the Wheel takes the musicians back their musical roots, making it “hard to listen to the album and not have a smile on your face.” [Listen.com]

“Nelson sounds like an absolute natural in these environs,” The Washington Post wrote. “Asleep at the Wheel’s take on Western swing should be especially interesting to fans of early 20th-century American popular music. Their fidelity to the source material means that traces of jazz swing, ragtime and Dixieland are preserved as if in amber, sounding much as they did in the 30s and 40s.”

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