Shotgun Willie, 1974's Phases and Stages and another record made live at the Texas Opry House.">
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Willie Nelson - The Complete Atlantic Sessions

A Box Set Collection

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Willie Nelson - The Complete Atlantic Sessions CD Cover

Willie Nelson - The Complete Atlantic Sessions

(© Rhino, 2006)
When Willie Nelson came on the scene of the early alt.country (aka "outlaw country") movement in the 1970s, his background was a muddling of old cowboy tunes, folk songs, gospel, and whiskey-fueled Texas country-western. This boxed set showcases the early days of Nelson's rise in the Austin music scene, and eventually to worldwide popularity.

Featured here is a reissue of his 1973 "debut" Shotgun Willie, 1974's Phases and Stages and another record made live at the Texas Opry House.

Highlights of Willie Nelson - The Complete Atlantic Sessions

Willie Nelson's classics like "Bloody Mary Morning" and "Whiskey River" rock just as hard now as they did back in the early 70s.

Honestly, the most fabulous thing about this boxed set is the live recording. Nelson is an incredible songwriter, and his studio efforts are, quite obviously, unforgettable. He's forged a great career with his long series of impeccable studio albums.

Which is exactly why it's so much fun to crank up the Live at the Texas Opry House CD. After making your way through a couple of different versions of his biggest heartbreakers from Phases and Stages ("I Still Can't Believe That You're Gone," "Heaven and Hell" and "It's Not Supposed to Be That Way") it's an emotional relief to stick in the live disc and hear him break into ripping down-home versions of "Sister's Coming Home" and "Bloody Mary Morning."

Lowlights of Willie Nelson - The Complete Atlantic Sessions

Willie Nelson's debut album was great as it was, but with this boxed set reissue, the producers have tacked on a bevy of rare recordings at the end.

My general beef with boxed sets is that they tend to do this in the strangest of places. I'd personally have preferred to have the reissued albums with one or two bonus tracks, and then a separate CD that features rarities and outtakes.

With that said, the rarities and bonus tracks featured on Shotgun Willie are great tracks. It's just maybe a little too much music for one sitting.

Then again, with MP3 culture abounding these days, this fact can be quite forgiveable. The album translates well to digital players that allow you to shuffle the songs and listen to them at whatever length interval works for you.

Willie Nelson's Traditional Folk Roots, et al

Most people would generally think of Willie Nelson as an old time country man who's spent much of his career cranking out country ballads and honky-tonk breakdowns. But Nelson's early work was as much rooted in southern jazz, country swing, traditional Americana, and old-school folk music as anything else.

It's precisely these qualities that shine so clearly on these early recordings. It's nice to look back and be able to understand completely how a man like Willie Nelson has managed to stick around in the National music scene so long. It all started with these early Atlantic recordings, which featured possibly some of the best songwriting of the era.

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