The musical relationship between country legend Willie Nelson and underheralded Austin songwriter Kimmie Rhodes had existed for years — most recently, the two had dueted twice on Rhodes’ 2002 solo album Love Me Like a Song (the lovely title track and “We’ve Done This Before,” both also included here), yet they had teamed as early as 1996, on both Rhodes’ West Texas Heaven and Nelson’s Just One Love albums. On Picture in a Frame, however, their musical simpatico reached an apotheosis. It is one of the most enjoyable albums in either of their careers, which is saying a great deal in both cases. In addition to pairing up a couple outstanding performers — both, in their inimitable ways, outlaws to the country mainstream — the album combines the best of numerous country & western worlds: classic and contemporary, rural versus urban, R&B/jazz-influenced and folk-based, internationally renowned superstardom and best-kept local secret. Best of all, though, it brought together a loose, intimate little acoustic ensemble to play a superior set of songs. Rhodes did much of the heavy lifting, contributing two exclusive compositions (“Just One Love” and “I Just Drove By”) and one clipped from her theatrical production Small Town Gift (the closing “Rhinestone Highway”). Nelson added a pair of his own, the brand-new, and choice, “It Always Will Be” and a moving version of “Valentine” from Across the Borderline. The Rodney Crowell classic “‘Til I Gain Control Again,” long a Nelson live staple, is given a gorgeous rebirth here, with its stately gait and life-scarred grace. And the album title is supplied by the Tom Waits song, transformed into a tear-jerking, slow-burning tribute by these two inspiring artists.
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