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Pop Music Review

'Red Headed Stranger' Casts a Spell Over Bozulich and Pals

April 03, 2002|MARC WEINGARTEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A canny blend of leather-worn country standards and original compositions that sound like they could be, Willie Nelson's 1975 album "Red Headed Stranger" functions as a kind of informal concept album about the itinerant life of an outlaw who has been betrayed.

Because it ditches most of the usual frontier myths in favor of songs that conflate love with an inchoate spiritual yearning, it remains a powerful musical statement a quarter-century later.

Former Geraldine Fibbers singer Carla Bozulich has felt the irresistible tug of "Red Headed Stranger" so strongly that she decided to pull together a touring band and play the album in its entirety onstage.

At Cafe Club Fais Do-Do on Monday, the band's first stop on its national Nelson homage tour, Bozulich and the band--guitarist Nels Cline, bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola--tapped into the frayed heart of "Red Headed Stranger" without slavishly re-creating the arrangements. Bozulich is not a country singer, but she has an appealingly tremulous, melancholy catch in her voice that, in this context, was evocatively utilized.

Cline, a sneakily inventive guitarist, unraveled Nelson's foursquare arrangements to allow Bozulich's voice to luxuriate in them. The album's prim waltzes dissolved into ghostly dirges; ballads were stretched out, giving Bozulich a wide berth to wallow.

Not everything was word-perfect--the band stopped to gather itself a few times--but that ramshackle spirit was a boon.

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