Willie Nelson turns 80 this year, and this album is the first in a series of releases and events to celebrate the landmark: fresh recordings of pop and country classics dating as far back as the year of Willie’s birth. As an exercise in showcasing the singer’s inimitably laconic way with a variety of styles it’s a real winner.
Irving Berlin’s title track, shorn of its song-and-dance glitz, is re-imagined as low-key cantina shuffle with hints of foreboding; Carl Perkins’ Matchbox becomes a harmonica-led country-blues shuffle; and The Platters’ lush ballad Twilight Time is just plain gorgeous when given a tender jazz makeover. Elsewhere, Nelson’s oaky tones wrap themselves gracefully around the works of Frank Loesser, Mack Gordon and Spade Cooley. It’s as much a celebration of the last 80 years of American song as it is Nelson’s own time on the planet, and parallels can be drawn with Stardust, his 1979 Grammy-winning album of standards. There is some space, however, for a Willie original: a new version of the heartbreaking lament It’s The Better Part Over, first heard in 1989.