Willie Nelson duets and collaborations

Country music singers Waylon Jennings, right, and Willie Nelson are shown in New York City on Feb. 5. 1978.  (AP Photo)

by: stephen L Betts

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Willie Nelson’s solo work — including Red Headed Stranger and Stardust — is rightly recognized as some of the most important and enduring music in any genre, both boundary-pushing and reverent toward tradition. Even so, time and again, Nelson proved himself a musical collaborator par excellence, singing with everyone from Dolly Parton to Snoop Dogg and making it sound natural and relaxed in the way that only he knows. From “Seven Spanish Angels” to “Pancho & Lefty,” here are Willie Nelson’s 12 best collaborations.

‘Mendocino County Line’ with Lee Ann Womack, 2002

405643 35: Lee Ann Womack, left, and Willie Nelson perform onstage during the 37th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards May 22, 2002 at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

Photo : Vince Bucci/Getty Images

Absent from the country Top Forty for 12 years, Willie returned to the upper reaches of the singles chart with this eventual Grammy winner, penned by Bernie Taupin and Matt Serletic. For this wistful reflection of a failed romance, Womack provides the soaring vocal build-up then leaves Nelson to shine at his poignant best. The album which supplied it, The Great Divide, earned mixed reviews for its slick adult-pop production, but Nelson’s voice, as warm as a Pacific Ocean breeze, offers calming reflection.

‘Heartland’ with Bob Dylan, 1993

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01:  USA  Photo of Willie NELSON and Bob DYLAN, with Willie Nelson, performing live onstage  (Photo by Robert Knight Archive/Redferns)

Photo : Robert Knight Archive/Redferns/Getty Images

At the dawn of the Nineties, while also sorting out his IRS tax debt, Nelson managed to put together his best album of the decade – and one of the most satisfying in his massive catalogue – with Across the Borderline. Produced by Don Was, the LP had him sharing vocals with Bonnie Raitt on the gorgeous Stephen Bruton tune “Getting Over You,” Sinead O’Connor, with their revelatory take on Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” and Bob Dylan, with whom he co-wrote and sang “Heartland.” An extension of Nelson’s flowering activism at the time, especially with Farm Aid, the plight of Middle American family farms rarely sounded as urgent or dire.

‘Pancho & Lefty’ with Merle Haggard, 1983

Country musician Merle Haggard performs with a Fender Telecaster with Willie Nelson in August 26, 1988. (Photo by Beth Gwinn/Getty Images)

Photo : Beth Gwinn/Getty Images

Although it had been covered before (notably by Emmylou Harris), this cinematic Townes Van Zandt classic unfolds like a movie within a movie with Nelson and Haggard swapping verses. One can imagine two old pals riding together in the Old West telling each other a fascinating-yet-enigmatic tale of banditry and betrayal which they’ve either experienced together, heard about, or are just making up to pass the time. The two Hall of Fame legends brought out the best in one another nearly every time they collaborated, but here they took it to a level that would set the gold standard for country duets.

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