A visit to the pool of iconic Las Vegas hotel the Bellagio envelops the senses with the sounds and sights of the American standards era. At any moment, one expects the elevator doors open, revealing the Rat Pack sauntering in for a round on the stage or at the bar. Dapper, classically grey-suited Sinatra, Cole, and Davis typified the generation and much of the great American Songbook. Is there a place for country musics ultimate outlaw in the room? Absolutely. Willie Nelson commits no crime on his latest release, American Classic. One listen and you may begin to picture Nelson with a dirty martini rather than a cold beer bottle.
This is Nelsons second major delve into standards, after the success of 1978s Stardust, and we wonder why it took him so long to saddle up wholeheartedly to the classics. Note, the term “classic” is restrictive here; we’re trying to forget and forgive some of Willie Standard Time, particularly selections like Wind Beneath My Wings. More recently, Nelson spent the last decade lawlessly roaming the musical plains, collaborating with Ray Price, Ryan Adams, and most recently, Wynton Marsalis.
Clearly his time with Marsalis delivered Nelson in peak condition for the flawless American Classic, released on Blue Note Records. Producer Tommy LiPuma deserves accolades for his time-honored delivery of these iconic tracks. Familiar tracks The Nearness of You and Fly Me to the Moon lull your mind away with a pearly piano and wispy brush beat.
Diana Krall and Norah Jones provide unobtrusive modernity with their vocals in If I Had You and Baby Its Cold Outside, respectively. Always On My Mind gently wrenches the heart again; it and most of these tracks are likely to draw grandparents and grandchildren alike out on the dance floor as they grace the playlists of deejays.
The only surprise on this album is pleasant: The songs are as you know them and supremely well executed. The effortless and authentic delivery comforts fans of Nelsons unvarnished vocals. In todays world of complexity and overindulgence, this albums vintage simplicity allows classic jazz fan or farmer, straight shaven and well-tailored or frayed beard and bandanna, to sit back and be refreshed by classics. Be prepared to sway, tap, and snap along.