Aug 23, 2009
Blue Note made a business decision a few years back that seems to be reaping dividends for the label and it's fans. By signing non-jazz artists like Van Morrison and Al Green, the august jazz label increased it's exposure to rock and soul fans, added some much-needed cash flow, and in the process, created some pretty darn good music. Morrison's What's Wrong With this Picture was one of his jazziest releases, with a killer versions of "Saint James Infirmary" and the jump-blues of "Stop Drinking".
Willie Nelson joins that label for American Classic, a sequel of sorts to his 1978 release, Stardust. Backed with a top-notch band of Mickey Raphael (harmonica), Joe Sample (piano), Christian McBride (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums), the Red Headed Stranger tackles eleven songs from the Great American Songbook, plus a new take on his own hit "Always On My Mind". The result is almost always a treat.
At this point in his career, Willie's phrasing is nothing short of exemplary. He rarely drags notes out, and his direct and honest reading adds to the strong melodies. His gentle reading of "Fly Me to the Moon" reveals a sense of whistful wonder that gets lost in more bombastic versions, and "Because of You" and "The Nearness of You" are given faithful presentations.
His duet with Diana Krall on "If I Had You" is fine, but seems more likely an attempt at giving Willie "jazz cred". Another duet, with Norah Jones on the holiday season staple "Baby It's Cold Outside" fails not due to the recording, but rather to an unavoidable sense of creepiness. I simply couldn't get past a man in his late seventies singing songs of seduction with a female coutnerpart young enough to be his granddaughter