Willie Nelson: My Way

60 years in the spotlight
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by:  Thomas H. Green
Of all the great country superstars of his era, Willie Nelson is truly the last man standing (as was made clear by the title of his last album… Last Man Standing). In his mid-80s his output has, if anything, become more prolific. However, if his 1970s outlaw persona could peek into the future and see what 2018 Willie was up to, he might be surprised. His latest album, a tribute to his old pal Frank Sinatra, has wandered far off into the world of late night jazz bar shuffling.

In truth, Nelson has form in this area. A couple of years ago he released a set of George Gershwin standards – and even as far back as 1978 he was covering Sinatra-friendly cuts such as “On the Sunny Side of the Street” in a jazz style – but My Way still seems especially mellow, bow-tied and urbane.

The truth is these versions of well-worn songs are not vital or necessary but, by the same token, Nelson’s ease with them makes listening likeable. He doesn’t amp up the croon factor or melodrama like so many young Bublé wannabes. He simply inhabits the songs, his voice, with its distinctive quaver, giving the appropriate lived-in feel to cuts such “One for My Baby (and One for the Road)”. His very age brings forth the emotional content of numbers such as “Young at Heart”, the ever-poignant genius of Ervin Drake’s timeless classic “It Was a Very Good Year”, and even lends the hackneyed, over-played “My Way” a little charm.

A commercial selling point may be the appearance of Norah Jones on a rather throwaway version of “What Is This Thing Called Love” but, on the other hand, the album is most especially aided by fine instrumental work, from the 3.00 AM rustling drums to the orchestration of Buddy Cannon and Matt Rollings. Most exceptional of all is some stunning guitar work, both jazzily virtuosic and lazily lovely. By the time the listener reaches the closing “Blue Moon”, even a cynic like this writer, entirely sick of predictable Alexander Armstrong-style “American songbook” bollocks, may be somewhat persuaded by Nelson’s effortless take on it all.

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