Bill Frisell

The Willies (Nonesuch)

If The Willies is any indication, Bill Frisell could probably make "Achy Breaky Heart" sound like a walk in the clouds. Here, the rangy jazz guitarist, banjo player (and Bad Liver) Danny Barnes, and bassist Keith Lowe revisit the terrain Frisell explored on 1995's Nashville, spinning a handful of folk and country standards (and a number of impressive originals) in his signature web of careful tone control and sleepily amniotic delay. It's such a narcotic sound, you might not notice the gaps between songs: The trio eases out of Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart" and into Frisell"s "I Know You Care" as if there were a napping baby in the room; producer Lee Townsend captures their playing with the same attention to detail he brought to The Sweetest Punch, Frisell's ultra-smooth reading of Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach's 1998 collaboration, Painted From Memory. Yet in his taming of these scorched-earth tone poems, Frisell doesn't go entirely defanged: His trademark harmonic sense lurks right beneath the placid surface, occasionally ascending, as on the bluegrass standard "Cluck Old Hen," where tiny ripples of dissonance remind you that you're not quite dreaming.

 
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