Willie Nelson and Asleep At The Wheel – “Hesitation Blues”
In 1933, the year Willie Nelson was born, “Hesitation Blues” had already been on record for nearly 20 years: The earliest version I can find, listed in the Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings, was by the Victor Military Band in 1916.
In the intervening decades, it’s been recorded by everyone from Jelly Roll Morton to Reverend Gary Davis to Janis Joplin to Old Crow Medicine Show. Now it’s Willie’s turn on this opening track from Willie and the Wheel. Like the other classic tracks on this superlative album, “Hesitation Blues” was handpicked by Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler for Nelson to record with Asleep at the Wheel in the 1970s. 30-some years later, Wexler’s idea for an album finally saw the light of day. And boy, was it worth the wait.
Accompanied, of course, by the excellent musicianship of Asleep at the Wheel, Nelson sounds downright jaunty tackling Western Swing, infusing sterile mp3 with the warmth of yesterday. His immediately recognizable voice is contrasted with the lovely, polished harmonies of Asleep at the Wheel, and the juxtaposition is irresistible as a whiskey sour. Listening to the song, it’s near impossible to sit still or quit grinning, thanks to the jazzy horn section and rollicking barroom piano.
Not only is “Hesitation Blues” a wonderful collaboration between like-minded musical legends on one of American music’s most enduring songs, it’s one of the best singles of 2009. But it sounds as though it’s been here for a lifetime.
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