Online since August 2002

The album title says it all

Reviewed September 2009

American Classic
American Classic
By Willie Nelson

Blue Note: 2009

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Turns out last year's project between country icon Willie Nelson and jazz leading light Wynton Marsalis wasn't a one-off for Nelson with the blues label Blue Note. He's back, picking up where "Two Men With the Blues" left off, but taking Nelson's distinctively ragged voice into even more of an after-hours groove – tackling the sorts of standards one associates more with big city supper clubs than the honky tonks one associates with Nelson's career.

As on the "Two Men" release, here Nelson turns the faltering, rough-hewn nature of his singing voice and plays to it – treats as one would a strength, and in so doing ensures that it is, indeed, a strength.

While his tremendous success as a songwriter, and his association with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings in the 1970s and '80s got most of the country music fan base used to his unusual singing voice, the fact is that there is a vulnerability in his halting yet confident delivery that overcomes any perceived physical shortcomings.

"Ain't Misbehavin'" is a nice example of what this album is about: A traditional, midtempo arrangement with piano, drums and bass backing his singing, Nelson turns the timeworn lyrics into a fresh, new love letter through the power of his charisma and charm. The somewhat quick tempo of "On The Street Where You Live" gives it a different feel from most other recordings, yet it works nicely. And he teams up with Norah Jones for a nicely old-fashioned bit of romance on "Baby It's Cold Outside." And the jazz take of his hit, "You Were Always On My Mind" might be more evocative than his 1982 recording, generally regarded as the definitive take on the one-time Brenda Lee hit.

And that's the thing about this album: It overflows with Nelson's charm and personality. The relaxed arrangements and fat sound mix achieve the feel of a small nightclub, creating a warm intimacy that showcases the pure magic of Willie Nelson like few of his other albums have ever done.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).

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