Willie Nelson sings Sinatra again, still gorgeously | Album review

by: Dan DeLuca

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In the 1970s, Willie Nelson upended expectations by following his breakthrough albums Shotgun Willie and The Red Headed Stranger with a project dear to his heart: Stardust, a set of Great American Songbook standards that turned out to be an enormous success.

It also got the attention of one of his favorite artists. “That cat is a blues singer,” Frank Sinatra said at the time. “He can sing my stuff, but I don’t know if I can sing his.”

Nelson, who turns 88 next month, remains astonishingly productive. This is the eighth album he’s released in the last five years, and the second of songs associated with Sinatra, following 2018?s My Way. This new album’s cover painting is an homage to Ol’ Blue Eyes’ melancholy 1955 masterpiece In the Wee Small Hours.

Like My Way, That’s Life is a collaboration with Nashville producer Buddy Cannon and pianist Matt Rollings, a former member of Lyle Lovett’s Large Band. The arrangements put Nelson in a satisfying, sentimental comfort zone that never strains too hard to reinvent standards like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “Luck Be a Lady.”

Instead, Nelson puts his own spin on the songs naturally, with his sui generis sense of ease that comes across in everything he talks-sings. He swings effortlessly, just a touch behind the beat.

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