Rainbow Connection by Willie Nelson
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This charming, super-casual collection began as a children's record and later became a "family" record--a designation that reflects the contributions of Nelson's daughter Amy as well as the inclusion of more "adult" material. It's difficult to think of another artist who'd pull together such a unique selection of songs. Nelson tackles odd kid-friendly little ditties from country's past such as "I'm My Own Grandpa" (a 1948 hit for Lonzo & Oscar), the Western swing favorite "Won't You Ride in My Little Red Wagon," and Jimmie Dolan's boogie "Playin' Dominoes and Shootin' Dice," a drinking-and-fighting song that is presumably a cautionary tale for the little ones. The more traditional children's fare ("Four Leaf Clover," "Playmate," title track) comes early on, but by the end of the disc Nelson seems to have lost interest in the album's original premise, moving to hardcore blues ("Outskirts of Town"), Mickey Newbury
's psychedelic folk rock ("I Just Dropped In"--daddy, how do you trip on a cloud?), and Newbury's sober, complex "33rd of August." Amy Nelson wrote and sang two delightful kiddie tunes while papa Willie adds one new original, the jaunty, optimistic "Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way." To be sure, Rainbow Connection
is a low-key, informal affair, and what would sound sloppy by most other artists is of course endearing by Willie. In the end, this "family CD" is like a bowl of chocolate ice cream: it ain't as special as a sundae or even a cone, but who doesn't like chocolate ice cream? --Marc Greilsamer