by Jim Ridley
Willie Nelson, Citizen Kane, the Grand Canyon and the Mississippi River—you gotta see ’em all before you die. We caught him one year at an unannounced South by Southwest gig, and as word spread on the streets of Austin you could literally watch people stop in their tracks and bolt-ass toward the venue.
He’ll be at The Ryman, one of the most sympathetic halls in the land for the material on his new CD American Classic—and perhaps only for Willie would the album’s title register as understatement. His singing is sun-warmed leather, his ease with the songs approaches Zen, and when his spindly guitar work finally surfaces along with Norah Jones on the old come-on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” it’s as stamped with an individual’s signature as Django Reinhardt’s. The record marks a return to the standards-songbook format he adopted so successfully on 1978’s Stardust—a confounding move at the time. Today, after his excursions into reggae, jazz, blues and swing, it seems as natural as the left turn that always leads you home.