Willie Nelson – Stardust (1978)

FrontCover1Stardust is the 23rd studio album by Willie Nelson that spans the genres of pop, jazz, and country music. Its ten songs consist entirely of pop standards that Nelson picked from among his favorites. Nelson asked Booker T. Jones, who was his neighbor in Malibu at the time, to arrange a version of “Moonlight in Vermont”. Impressed with Jones’s work, Nelson asked him to produce the entire album. Nelson’s decision to record such well-known tracks was controversial among Columbia executives because he had distinguished himself in the outlaw country genre. Recording of the album took only ten days.

Released in April, Stardust was met with high sales and near-universal positive reviews. It peaked at number one in Billboard’s Top Country Albums and number thirty in the Billboard 200. Meanwhile, it charted at number one in Canadian RPM’s Country Albums and number twenty-eight in RPM’s Top Albums. The singles “Blue Skies” and “All of Me” peaked respectively at numbers one and three in Billboard’s Hot Country Singles.

In 1979, Nelson won a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for the song “Georgia on My Mind”. Stardust was on the Billboard’s Country Album charts for ten years—from its release until 1988. The album also reached number one in New WillieNelsonZealand and number five in Australia in 1980. In 2003, the album was ranked number 257 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It was originally certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America in December 1978. In 1984, when it was certified triple platinum, Nelson was the highest-grossing concert act in the United States. In 2002, the album was certified quintuple platinum, and it was later inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame class of 2015. (by wikipedia)

At the height of outlaw country, Willie Nelson pulled off perhaps the riskiest move of the entire bunch. He set aside originals, country, and folk and recorded Stardust, a collection of pop standards produced by Booker T. Jones. Well, it’s not entirely accurate to say that he put away country and folk, since these are highly idiosyncratic interpretations of “Georgia on My Mind,” “All of Me,” “Moonlight in Vermont,” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” blending pop, country, jazz, and folk in equal measures. It’s not that Willie makes these songs his own, it’s that he reimagines these songs in a way that nobody else could, and with his trusty touring band, he makes these versions indelible.

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It may be strange to think that this album, containing no originals from one of America’s greatest songwriters, is what made him a star, and it continues to be one of his most beloved records, but it’s appropriate, actually. Stardust showcases Nelson’s skills as a musician and his entire aesthetic — where there is nothing separating classic American musical forms, it can all be played together — perhaps better than any other album, which is why it was a sensation upon its release and grows stronger with each passing year. (by Stephen Thomas Erlewine)

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Personnel:
Paul English (drums)
Chris Ethridge (bass)
Booker T. Jones (keyboards)
Rex Ludwick (drums)
Bobbie Nelson (piano)
Willie Nelson (vocals, guitar)
Jody Payne (guitar)
Mickey Raphael (harmonica)
Bee Spears (bass)

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Tracklist:
01. “Stardust (Carmichael/Parish) 3.53
02. Georgia On My Mind (Carmichael/Gorrell) 4.20
03. Blue Skies (Berlin) 3.34
04. All Of Me (Simons/Marks) 3.54
05. Unchained Melody (North/Zaret) 3.50
06. September Song (Weill/Anderson) 4-35
07. On The Sunny Side Of The Street (McHugh/Fields) 2.36
08. Moonlight In Vermont (Suessdorf/Blackburn) 3.25
09. Don’t Get Around Much Anymore (Ellington/Russell) 2.33
10. Someone To Watch Over Me (G.Gershwin/I.Gershwin) 4.03
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11. Scarlet Ribbons (Danzig/Segal) 4.30
12. I Can See Clearly Now (Nash)  4.18

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Gustavo Santaolalla & Various Artists – Brokeback Mountain (OST) (2005)

FrontCover1What is most notable about the soundtrack to Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain is the original score by Argentinian music wizard Gustavo Santaolalla (producer of the grand Café Tacuba recordings and a songwriter in his own right, as evidenced by his two albums, Gas and Ronroco). His interludes and cues evoke the very landscape that Lee portrays in his film, but there are also some fine vocal performances by a star-studded cast of singers. Willie Nelson’s read of “He Was a Friend of Mine,” complete with squeezebox and layered acoustic guitars, is gorgeous. Emmylou Harris’ performance of Santaolalla and Bernie Taupin’s “A Love That Will Never Grow Old” is simple, spare, and poignant. The shuffling honky tonk ballad that Santaolalla wrote for Mary McBride, with its crying pedal steel, hits close to the bone and evokes Patsy Cline. Likewise, the hard-driving country of “I Will Never Let You Go,” written for Jackie Greene, Still01is tough and tender. Santaolalla’s cues, like the best of Ry Cooder’s film scores, touch the film’s scenery, move its narrative, and pricelessly frame it in time. Teddy Thompson and Rufus Wainwright team for a throwaway country-swing version of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” but Thompson does a fine job on the Santaolalla and Taupin tune “I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye,” which is as heartbroken a ballad as one is likely to hear. This is an utterly wonderful soundtrack that could have done without Linda Ronstadt’s version of Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy,” Steve Earle’s “The Devil’s Right Hand,” or even Wainwright’s “The Maker Makes,” but this is a small complaint. (by Thom Jurek)

Still02Tracklist:
01. Gustavo Santaolalla: Opening (Santaolalla) 1.31
02. Willie Nelson: He Was A Friend Of Mine (Dylan) 4.39
03. Gustavo Santaolalla: Brokeback Mountain 1 (Santaolalla) 2.32
04. Emmylou Harris: A Love That Will Never Grow Old (Santaolalla/Taupin) 3.20
05. Teddy Thompson & Rufus Wainwright: King Of The Road (Miller) 2.52
06. Gustavo Santaolalla: Snow (Santaolalla) 1.18
07. Steve Earle: The Devil’s Right Hand (Santaolalla(Earle) 2.34
08. Mary McBride: No One’s Gonna Love You Like Me (Santaolalla) 3.06
09. Gustavo Santaolalla: Brokeback Mountain 2 (Santaolalla) 1.59
10. Teddy Thompson: I Don’t Want To Say Goodbye (Santaolalla/Taupin) 3.12
11. Jackie Greene: I Will Never Let You Go (Santaolalla/Spillman) 1.55
12. Gustavo Santaolalla: Riding Horses (Santaolalla) 1.24
13. Gas Band: An Angel Went Up in Flames (Santaolalla) 2.36
14. Linda Ronstadt: It’s So Easy (Holly/Petty) 2.27
15. Gustavo Santaolalla: Brokeback Mountain 3 (Santaolalla) 2.14
16. Rufus Wainwright: The Maker Makes (Santaolalla/Wainwright) 3.50
17. Gustavo Santaolalla: The Wings (Santaolalla) 1.52

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Ray Charles – Genius & Friends (2005)

FrontCover1Atlantic/Rhino’s 2005 Genius & Friends is the end result of a project Ray Charles initiated a few months before his death in June 2004. According to James Austin’s liner notes, Charles called Austin in December of 2003, asking if he could find the masters to an unreleased duets record Ray recorded in 1997 and 1998. Austin found the tapes, but Charles was too sick to work on them, so after his passing — and after his final studio album, the duets record Genius Loves Company, became a number one hit in August of 2004 — Atlantic/Rhino decided to finish off the project, bringing in producer Phil Ramone to oversee the completion of the album. This included bringing in singers to record their parts, since apart from two tracks — a 1994 duet with Diana Ross on “Big Bad Love” and a live 1991 version of “Busted” with Willie Nelson (taken from the television special Ray Charles: 50 Years in Music) — these are all studio constructions, with vocalists duetting with a previously recorded Ray. While not quite the monstrosity it could have been — posthumous duets albums like this always bear an unsettling ghoulish undertow — Genius & Friends is also not a particularly good album either. This isn’t because the pairings are ill conceived — apart from the woefully outmatched American Idol winner Ruben Studdard on “Imagine” (which boasts perhaps Ray’s best vocal performance on this record), there’s nobody here who doesn’t hold his or her own, and Ramone has skillfully edited the new recordings with the existing tapes so it sounds like they were recorded at the same time, even if it rarely sounds as if the vocalists were in the same room together. Rather, the problem is that the productions are caught halfway between ’90s adult contemporary and modern neo-soul, sounding too slick and polished to really be memorable. It’s pleasant enough — and it’s top-loaded, too, with the duets with Angie Stone, Chris Isaak, and Mary J. Blige being among the best cuts — but it’s not as relaxed or appealing as Genius Loves Company, which had the feeling of being a real duets album. This feels like what it is — a professional studio creation. Not a terrible thing per se, but not something that makes for a good album, either.( by Stepen Thomas Erlewine)

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Tracklist:
01. Angie Stone:  All I Want to Do (McKinney/Walden) 4.00
02. Chris Isaak: You Are My Sunshine (Davis/Mitchell) 3.48
03. Mary J. Blige: It All Goes by So Fast (Hirsch/Levy) 5.07
04. Gladys Knight: You Were There (unknown) 3.41
05. The Harlem Gospel Singers / Ruben Studdard: Imagine (Lennon) 3.41
06. Leela James: Compared to What (McDaniels) 3.42
07. Diana Ross: Big Bad Love (Sample/Stephanie Tyrell/Steve Tyrell) 3.42
08. Idina Menzel: I Will Be There (Dakota/Walden) 4.43
09. George Michael: Blame It On The Sun (Wonder/Wright) 4.46
10. John Legend: Touch (McKinney/Walden) 4.40
11. Patti LaBelle / The Andraé Crouch Singers: Shout (Hilden/Walden) 5.10
12. Laura Pausini: Surrender To Love (unknown) 4.13
13. Willie Nelson: Busted (Howard) 2.32
14. Alicia Keys: America the Beautiful (Bates/Ward) 2.58

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