Nearly a decade after hatching the idea for a country album that infuses reggae, Willie Nelson will release the set, "Countryman," this week via Lost Highway. The album finds the outlaw country icon covering Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come" and dueting with Toots Hibbert on the Johnny Cash/June Carter Cash composition "I'm a Worried Man."
The project was originally conceived with Island Records founder Chris Blackwell when Nelson joined the label's roster in 1995. Basic tracks were recorded with producer Don Was over the next few years, but Blackwell's exit from the label and a series of sales and mergers involving its parent companies put the album in limbo.
"Countryman" was revived by Nelson and Luke Lewis, whose Lost Highway label is part of the Island Def Jam family and home to Nelson's most recent works. Producer Richard Feldman (Toots & the Maytals, No Doubt, Wailing Souls) was brought in last year to finish the album.
Nelson also covers "Sitting in Limbo," a song that appeared on the soundtrack to Cliff's film "The Harder They Come," and fills out the set with reggae versions of seven self-penned songs (including "Something To Think About" and "Darkness on the Face of the Earth") plus songs co-written with Ray Price ("I've Just Destroyed the World") and Hank Cochran ("Undo the Right").