There was a time when Bill Frisell's not-entirely-realized Nashville seemed like a fun side-project, a twangy all-out jump into a countrified American music that had been implied for some time underneath Frisell's wavy washes and distortion. But Nashville and the like are now the norm, and recordings like last year's Bill Frisell With Dave Holland and Elvin Jones are the teases.
Frisell has moved entirely into his own personal genre-a sound cut primarily from American folk, country, blues and marches, with jazz pulling up the distant rear-and again, on The Willies, he shows little inclination of backing out. Danny Barnes (on banjo and guitars with short outings on bass harmonica and pump organ) and bassist Keith Lowe (on loan from Wayne Horvitz's Zony Mash) join Frisell on his latest tour through the American sonic backwater.
The Willies recalls Frisell's layered solo recording Ghost Town but with more movement and drive, and Barnes' banjo gives the album an especially dark, rough-hewn sound. At times, as on "Everybody Loves Everybody," Frisell is content to ride along with his band, unrolling sweet melodies and favorite lines well within the boundaries of the music. At other times, as with "Get Along," Frisell lets his bandmates set a steady rhythm and mood and he floats warbly notes over and under the music, a bit like Miles' delicate trumpet over the roiling funk foundation of his '70s electric period.
Though almost completely lacking in surprise, The Willies is a delicate, beautiful recording.