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Music Video Distributors presents
Willie Nelson: Willie (1991)

"The life I love is making music with my friends/And I can't wait to be on the road again."
- Willie Nelson from On the Road Again

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: July 18, 2002

Stars: Willie Nelson
Other Stars: Kimmie Rhodes, Johnny Gimble, Little Joe, Jimmy Day, Ann Richards
MPAA Rating: G
Run Time: 01h:28m:32s (combined)
Release Date: July 23, 2002
Genre: country

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ B+CC+ D

DVD Review

His is an unlikely image for a superstar: a grizzled complexion, braided ponytails, and an old, beat up guitar. He is one of few of the last remaining country icons, responsible for shaping the sound of the genre, first as a songwriter in the 1950s and '60s, then as a recording artist in the 1970s, when he had the highest selling album in country history. Born in Texas in 1933, he was raised by his grandparents, and began performing music at the age of four. By seven, he was actively writing, and after high school and a brief stint in the army, Nelson was selling songs and recorded his first single in 1956, Lumberjack, which sold an impressive 3000 copies.

He got his break in 1961, when three of his songs made the top forty: Faron Young's version of Hello Walls, Billy Walker's rendition of Funny How Time Slips Away and Patsy Cline with the now legendary Crazy. Along with a new record deal, Nelson joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1965, but became discouraged with the Nashville scene and moved back Austin, where he reinvented his style as "outlaw country." His first smash hit, a remake of Roy Acuff's Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, from 1975's Red-Headed Stranger, marked his transition into a country superstar. In 1978, the same year his perennial best seller, Stardust, was released, he would team up with Waylon Jennings for Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys, and began his motion picture career in Robert Redford's Electric Horseman and Honeysuckle Rose (1980), for which he wrote his trademark anthem, On The Road Again. Successful on his own, Nelson enjoyed teaming up with others, including a latin idol Julio Iglasias on For All The Girls We've Loved Before, and with fellow legends Kris Kristoferson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings for a trio of albums as the Highwaymen. He created the annual Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic in 1973—Woodstock, Texas-style; co-founded Farm Aid with Neil Young and John Mellencamp in 1985, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993, with more than 100 albums to his credit.

Willie Nelson: Willie contains two programs that spotlight some of the artist's work. The cover information indicates that this is two concert performances, which is a bit misleading. Introduced by Nelson, the first program, Nashville Superstar Collection, is a montage of Nelson performances over the years, with a narrative voiceover giving historical background to the artist's career over a half a century. We see the evolution of Nelson's image from his clean cut, suit and tie TV rendition of Hello Walls, to a mid-1960s version of Touch Me (with Willie looking more like a member of the Mamas & the Papa's than a country legend), to studio versions of Yesterday's Wine and Crazy, and concert footage (from the The Great Valentine Outlaw Concert) in his now familiar outlaw attire.

The second program is footage from The Great Valentine Outlaw Concert, shot in Austin's Opera House on February 14, 1991. Like its star, this feature is a little rough around the edges. Opening with Valentine (appropriate for the date), the concert also brings Kimmie Rhodes (Just One Love), Johnny Gimble (Black and White Rag), Little Joe (Amore) and Willie singing to then Texas Governor, Ann Richards on Texas. Also included are Always On My Mind, Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground and the signature On the Road Again.

The two programs combine to give a brief glimpse at a career that has spanned five decades, and of a man doing what he loves best, making music with his friends. These were released on home video in the 1990s, and those wishing a more permanent version should be happy with what is contained here, but newcomers will likely be disappointed with the audio and video quality that shows the limitations of its origins.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Allowances can be made for the age of the source materials, which dates back to the early 1960s in some cases. This is VHS quality at best, sourced from video tape, and as such is often blurry, blown out, or weak in the blacks. There is a good deal of video noise, aliasing, and minor defects, though no major dropouts to speak of. Colors are decent but tend to bleed, and the general appearance is pretty sub par for DVD, however, most of this reflects the technology used to record it and the interim storage methods used.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Audio for both features is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 or stereo surround, but both are pretty much mono, with the 5.1 track adding some fake ambience in the front speakers, which doesn't improve things. For the first feature, the audio quality varies quite a bit depending on the footage. It is listenable, but apart from the vocal or the lead instrument, most of the band is indistinct. Trying to make out specific instruments proves problematic, which is a shame since what can be heard is quite good. Drums seem to suffer the most, being a distant patter at best. The voice over narration is often edgy and fighting with the footage it is over.

The Valentine concert is the quality of a well-worn cassette tape. There is no treble to speak of, the overall sound is extremely muffled, and the vocals are extremely dependent on the proximity to the microphone for audibility. Drums are practically nonexistent, string bass is present but lacking definition. Occasional solo instruments like steel guitar or fiddles cut through better, but the quality here is barely passable. The stereo track is a bit brighter, while the 5.1 track is reminiscent of listening to a concert from the parking lot. The performance is there, but expecting this "remastered" audio to live up to more than fudging with masters in poor condition is an exercise in semantics.

Audio choices are not switchable on the fly.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Music/Song Access with 24 cues and remote access
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Aside from chapter menus for each song, and audio selections, there are no additional features. The disc comes in a clear keepcase, duplicating the cover photo and song listings on the inside.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

While the archival and concert footage is interesting and I am glad it has been preserved, unfortunately, this collection is for the serious Willie Nelson fan only, as the quality of these features is barely above VHS.


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