WILLIE NELSON | Songbird | Lost Highway

It’s hardly a shock that the Louisiana State Police who pulled over Willie Nelson’s tour bus in September discovered a big-ass bag of weed onboard. But it is surprising that Nelson had such a sizable stash left after recording the mostly-covers Songbird in New York earlier this year with alt-country hotshot Ryan Adams and Adams’ backing band, the Cardinals: These 11 reverb-soaked roots-soul joints — including versions of Fleetwood Mac’s title track and Gram Parsons’ “$1,000 Wedding” — are exceedingly mellow, even by Nelson’s standards. Though Adams’ showboat tendencies have hampered some of his own recent records, he works well in Nelson’s shadow here, nicely complementing the 73-year-old vet’s well-oiled vocals with a dash of scruffy dive-bar grit. The highlight on Willie’s second full-length this year (!) is a reading of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” — in which Nelson navigates the tune’s emotional complexities by approaching them with no fear.

MEAT LOAF| Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose | Virgin

Thanks to appealingly overblown efforts from the Killers and My Chemical Romance, Meat Loaf has suddenly become the influence of choice among stylish bands of black-clad boys. Luckily for him, Meat’s around to capitalize on his unlikely ubiquity with The Monster Is Loose, the third installment of the Bat Out of Hell trilogy he began nearly 30 years ago with composer Jim Steinman. (The pair’s recent legal trauma over the Bat Out Of Hell trademark seems to have been sorted, though Steinman didn’t produce this one.) Recent technological studio advancements mean that, sonically speaking, Monster scales rock-operatic heights its two predecessors couldn’t; the opening title track, for example, increases in size and volume till the only thing left to add is a theremin (which producer Desmond Child then adds). Of course, now that every emo band on Earth has worn out the concept-album concept, Monster isn’t as satisfying story-wise as the other Bat records. But Meat’s power-ballad instincts remain razor sharp. “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” a duet with Marion Raven (formerly of Norway girl-popsters M2M), should drain Zippos worldwide.

—Mikael Wood

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