Let's Face the Music and Dance
Though Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson got there earlier, it was Willie Nelson’s 1978 crossover masterpiece, Stardust, that truly ignited the avalanche of non-jazz singers who have since decided to bolster their careers with platters of standards. Nelson himself has made several return visits to Tin Pan Alley, but none are quite as enjoyable as this crazy-quilt pastiche of pop, country and jazz tunes that coincides both with Stardust’s 35th anniversary and Nelson’s 80th birthday.
The album is actually credited to Willie Nelson and Family, the “family” comprising the trio of players who have been his constant touring and recording mates for four decades: sister Bobbie Nelson on piano, Paul English on drums and Mickey Raphael on harmonica. That group is extended here to include English’s brother Billy on electric gut string and snare drum and Nelson’s son Micah on percussion, plus Jim “Moose” Brown on B3 and Kevin Smith on upright bass. The ninth family member is Trigger, the Martin N-20 that is as road-worn as Nelson and has been his trusted sidekick since 1969.
In recent years, Nelson’s never-wide range has diminished almost to the point of talk-singing, the trademark gravel now nearly impassably craggy, yet his unique appeal as a grizzled cherub remains undiminished. Most of the tunes are just as creaky (when was the last time anybody recorded “Marie” or Spade Cooley’s “Shame on You”?), yet from the percolated twang of Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox” to the tender folds of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” it’s impossible not to be charmed.