The Sunny Side of the Street: Willie Nelson

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Most of us know Willie Nelson as an incredible songwriter, one of the best in the business, so it’s ironic that many of us also know his 1978 cover album Stardust better than many of his other LPs. It’s a brilliant album and one of the earlier cover albums and certainly one of the best in which an artist makes old tunes his, imbues them with his sound to the point where many listeners think of “Blue Skies” as a Willie Nelson song and not Irving Berlin’s. Not a bad accomplishment for an artist covering some of the best pre-Beatle pop songs of the twentieth century.

Band of Brothers

When Band of Brothers came out and we had the opportunity to compare Nelson’s 2014 album with anything from his past I immediately chose Spirit, his last album of mostly new material from all the way back in 1996—and it is an excellent album with some of the best songs of his career premiering on that mostly forgotten album.  Still, for some reason, I kept coming back to his covers from 1978.

Stardust is the album that introduced Nelson to many of his fans, even those who just know this one album and “On The Road Again.” His early LPs, such as Yesterday’s Wine, are quite religious, as are his later albums in places. You have to admit there’s a spiritual tendency in his work, from “Too Sick To Pray” from Spirit to the Jobian (can’t believe that isn’t a word yet) “Bring It On” from Band of Brothers. His earliest songs were mostly spiritual. His covers album was also thoroughly spiritual.

Time Travel

Stardust is one of those albums that bridges eras, takes schmucks like me back to the 20s and returns us to our time renewed and wondering how he does so much so minimally, string by string. Now that I am back here, I wish I had told you about Spirit and what it has to offer someone who doesn’t mind hearing things from the past.


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