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Willie Nelson: Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin

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Suggesting that Willie Nelson’s voice has aged is like saying a sequoia seems somehow gnarlier. Sure Nelson’s trademark sound has grown more grizzled, a bit more parched. But place this latest collection of standards aside his landmark Stardust, from 1978, and it’s mighty difficult to detect the nearly four-decade gap. That loping cadence, gentle as a backwoods rill, that cozy-as-eiderdown narrative ease remain as enthralling as ever. Nor is Nelson’s incomparable vocal style the only sustaining link. His kid sister and longtime bandmate, keyboardist Bobbie, bridges the two (here trading off with Matt Rollings), as does ace harmonica player Mickey Raphael. Drummer Jay Bellerose, bassists David Piltch and Kevin Smith and guitarist Dean Parks round out the lineup. And, of course, Nelson is still toting his trusty Trigger.

Among the dozen polished chestnuts that filled Stardust, Nelson featured just one Gershwin tune, “Someone to Watch Over Me.” A close replica is included here, capturing the same sweet wistfulness. Indeed, though he includes such upbeat numbers as “They All Laughed,” “I Got Rhythm” and “Somebody Loves Me,” all 11 Gershwin tracks seem dipped in Nelson’s wisdom, missives from a heart well schooled in love and loss. (Never has “It Ain’t Necessarily So” resonated quite so poignantly, nor the title track been cast so bleak.) Two guests add unique accents: Cyndi Lauper, who channels a pixilated flapper on “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” and Sheryl Crow, who shapes an enticing amalgam of Doris Day and Patsy Cline on a tender “Embraceable You.”

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