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RECORD RACK

November 20, 1994|Robert Hilburn

WILLIE NELSON

"Healing Hands of Time"

Liberty / SBK

* 1/2

Nelson is a wonderfully gifted and original vocal interpreter who exhibits a Sinatra-like feel for combining intimacy, sophistication and character. At 61, however, he's way too far on the wrong side of the age curve to get much country radio airplay--and therefore sales --in the era of Garth and Clint.

The problem with that underdog position is that it encourages record execs to over-think each project--as if every Nelson album is a comeback try in need of a special twist.

Producer Don Was outfitted him last year in a coat of many pop-rock colors, and it didn't fit. Now producer Jimmy Bowen puts Nelson with a 60-piece orchestra in hopes of crossover appeal, and the arrangements smother the bearded Texan much of the time on standards ranging from his own "Funny How Time Slips Away" to Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's "All the Things You Are."

Nelson may never regain his '70s and '80s commercial punch, but we'll have a lot better chance of getting some more good albums from him if everyone stops trying to fix something that isn't broken. Just let the man sing.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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