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Variety has been the spice of Willie Nelson's life over his last five or so albums, as he's covered everything from blues to reggae and The Muppets. So perhaps that's why The Great Divide is such a surprising turn: It's his most polished, commercially minded CD since 1993's Across The Borderline.
He's even offering star-studded collaborations by the barrelful. "Maria," featuring Matchbox Twenty singer Rob Thomas, carries Mexicali overtones; "Mendocino County Line" is a heavily orchestrated duet with Lee Ann Womack that basks in melancholy melodrama; and "Last Stand In Open Country" finds Willie and rapper-rowdy Kid Rock harmonizing on a rebel Western pop song that wouldn't be out of place on a Bon Jovi album. Other duet partners include soul crooner Brian McKnight and beloved blues-rocker Bonnie Raitt.
Even when he goes it alone, the ever-unpredictable Willie keeps us guessing. He radiates old-soul wisdom on his version of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" and offers a take on the Kenny Rogers & The First Edition classic "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" that rumbles and rolls with intrigue.
The Great Divide's adventurous flavor serves notice that at 68, Willie Nelson is as hungry as ever for creative challenges.