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Taking a listen

Willie Nelson/Asleep At the Wheel — Willie Nelson & Asleep At the Wheel Outlaw country singer and purveyor of all things green Willie Nelson (www.willienelson.com) just doesn’t seem to be slowing down with age. The 76-year-old Nelson has now dipped into the somewhat-forgotten inkwell of Western swing to create an album entirely of nearly century-old cowboy tunes and traditional songs. He’s not alone, however, as powerhouse country juggernaut Asleep At the Wheel (www.asleepatthewheel.com) has accompanied him for not only the album, but a 10-date joint tour as well. The album, the last to bear the imprint of famed producer Jerry Wexler, is marked by flawless musicianship, which has become Asleep At The Wheel’s hallmark after more than 30 years of performing. Willie’s laid back delivery sounds right at home on oldschool tracks like “Hesitation Blues,” which has really been done to death, and the Bob Wills’ classic “Bring it on Down to My House.” The most engrossing quality of the album is its seamless transitions from track to track. Every song melts together in a blur of Dixieland jazz, 12-bar country blues and New Orleans horns. The only marker seems to be Nelson’s on voice, which takes on only marginally singular inflections from one song to another. Contemporary country singer Vince Gill and late-night impresario Paul Schaffer also make guest appearances on Bennie Moten’s “South,” a song famed for leading off Bob Wills’ performances. It only makes sense for the final brainchild of such a revered producer as Wexler to be a collaboration between one of the most noted voices and slickest bands in all of country music, and this effort is literally one for the ages.

Benji Hughes — A Love Extreme Having already written songs for several television shows, including “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “How I Met Your Mother,” Charlotte’s Benji Hughes (www.myspace.com/benjihughes) has just released his debut album, A Love Extreme. It’s a rarity to see any artist release a double album in their initial effort, especially when debuts are so integral to defining an artist’s sound. But then again, Hughes hardly has a sound that can be characterized as his own. A Love Extreme draws on so many styles over so much material that it’s difficult to pinpoint just where Hughes might come from next. It’s clear that he draws much of his influence from Beck, from the potpourri of electro-acoustic experimentalfolk-funk right down to his half-burbled, almost drunken brogue. If you can’t get down to the machine gun fire of styles that Hughes zings at you, surely his hilarious stories of getting dissed at Dairy Queen (“You Stood Me Up”), gobbling hallucinogens at a Flaming Lips show (“I Went With Some Friends to See the Flaming Lips”) or gawking at inaccessible hotties (“Tight Tee Shirt”) will brighten your day. There’s no weighty insight to be found in Hughes’ simple prose, but there is still a profoundly poetic quality to which any regular dude can surely relate.

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