One Hell of a Ride

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There have been many Willie Nelsons through the years: the buttoned-down Nashville crooner, the longhaired Texas rebel, the pop-standards revisionist, the old-school traditionalist, the gospel revivalist, the duet king, the Highwayman, and most recently the genre-hopping musical adventurer. They’re all present on the four-CD One Hell of a Ride, which gathers 100 tracks from throughout Willie’s storied career in early celebration of his 75th birthday on April 30.

Even with such a wide scope, Ride falls short of being definitive. Some big hits are missing, and it dwells too long on Willie’s 1960s output, when he was attempting to fit into a slick countrypolitan sound that didn’t suit him (for instance, 1975’s landmark The Red Headed Stranger is represented by only one track, while 1969’s little-remembered Both Sides Now gets four).

But perhaps definitiveness is beside the point. There’s a wealth of inarguably wonderful music here, and One Hell of a Ride is a helpful reminder that the many Willie Nelsons we’ve known are all contained in one authentic American treasure.

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