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Willie Nelson: Heroes (Legacy)

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With Willie Nelson taking on so many collaborators, Heroes is inevitably scattered—and cynics might say it's merely a vehicle to boost his son Lukas' career—but it strikes gold again and again.

Opener "A Horse Called Music" is a beautiful duet with Merle Haggard, classic country at its best, with a soft harmonica riding alongside those two grizzled outlaw crooners.

"Roll Me Up" ("And Smoke Me When I Die") is a barrel of fun, letting Nelson swap vocals with similarly weed-inclined guests Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson and Jamey Johnson.

Lukas Nelson is clearly his father's son, with a honeyed rasp passed down through DNA. Lukas contributes three songs—ranging from good to the great "Every Time He Drinks He Thinks of Her"—and nails the duets.

The surprise gems are the Pearl Jam and Coldplay covers. "Just Breathe" features finger-picked guitars, harmonica, pedal steel and beautifully blended harmony from both Nelsons. "The Scientist" is Willie (79 years wise) giving a passionately weary rendition that adds depth of feeling to that familiar melody.

I've heard bits and pieces of Nelson's albums since 1998's Teatro—excursions into blues, reggae, gospel, jazz, standards and a long string of duets—but Heroes is the first album in that span to arrive with execution that exceeds the gimmicks. It's a jumble, but Willie delivers at least a handful of songs that will make whatever best-of collection comes along next.

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