Originally released in 1978 as a double-vinyl album, Willie and Family Live
finally makes it to CD with a couple of previously unreleased bonus tracks. Those familiar with Nelson's live shows will hear the basic template of his current concert repertoire -- "Whiskey River," "Crazy," "Night Life," "Stay a Little Longer," "Funny how Time Slips Away," "Good Hearted Woman," "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," et al. -- and some other chestnuts that have since been supplanted by newer tunes. The family here includes sister Bobbie Nelson on honky-tonk piano, Paul English on drums, Jody Payne on guitar, Chris Ethridge on bass, and the formidable Mickey Raphael on harmonica. So Nelson's right at home as he settles into an eclectic mode he's never left. He tips his hat to pioneers and legends: Bob Wills, via "Stay a Little Longer," A. P. Carter, via a moving "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," Lester Flatt via "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms," Hoagy Carmichael, via "Georgia on My Mind." He also honors gifted contemporary tunesmiths, such as Rodney Crowell (a shattering take on "Till I Gain Control Again," with Emmylou Harris singing backup; the song reappears in another arrangement as a bonus track) and Leon Russell ("A Song for You"), and of course spotlights his own classic canon. The special treats here include a powerful medley of a half-dozen songs from Willie's monumental Red Headed Stranger
album and a spirited Johnny Paycheck performance of "Take This Job and Shove It," with Raphael blowing some mean harmonica along the way. Willie and Family Live
is a vivid portrait of an adventurous, indefatigable troupe back in the day, and, excepting a few particulars, a calling card announcing what this merry band can do on any given night in the here and now.