Thursday, March 20, 2014

Willie Nelson - Stardust (I love this album)

I couldn't sleep. In later years I would teach myself how to sleep, but, at the moment in question, this teenage incarnation of me wasn't getting the job done.

I had recently gotten my first record player, and with it, a large stack of records from various places. Many of them I hadn't listened to, some I never would; why would anybody ever listen to such gems as "30 rollerskate classics"? So, I flipped through some of them. I listened to a couple Waylon Jennings records, which was and is, always, a sensible and good choice, Johnny Cash at Folsom, a Chuck Berry greatest hits comp., and then I found this odd looking Willie Nelson case. I had a couple other Willie records, but this one looked different. It wasn't flashy, there weren't any large breasted women on the cover, it was a simple, beautiful oil paint night-skyscape, with the record's name. The back was just Willie standing alone in a barren looking desert.

I recognized most of the song names from listening to Billie Holiday and Sinatra. So, I put it on and changed my opinion of Mr. Nelson forever.

Maybe you think of Willie as an archetype in the outlaw country scene, and you'd be right, he's one of the gods of that realm. But, like any true deity, he is a complex being. Stardust was a soirĂ©e into that complexity, a look into a side we wouldn't see much in the decades to come. 

The songs are a portrait of Americana, this is Willie Nelson's American Songbook, if you will. He takes on standards and owns them. The greatest thing about this record, its' real strength, as far as I'm concerned, is in his uncanny ability to reinterpret songs. It's not like this is just a record of him doing covers, Willie Nelson isn't Rod Stewart. He doesn't try to do that. He makes this songs work for him, he shows you new things in them, but points you back in the direction that he came from. He sets himself up as a point of reference between the popular music of the 40's and 50's, and the shift that Rock and Motown created in that scene. He is very aware of his sound, and his place in it. At least, that's how it sounds to me.

Of course, his guitar his a main actor on the stage of this album. What would a Willie record be without that trademark guitar sound? That cheap, plucky, pawnshop grab helps to create a whole atmosphere on this record.

Which brings me to my next point, the work just sounds great. It is an excellently mixed record, everything sits perfect, and cleanly.

Let me sum this up real quick. This record is one of the most honest, simple, and brilliant recordings of American music, ever. I say that in complete conviction of my opinion.

I could sing this album's praises for several pages, but I won't. I'll bring it back to this, I listened to this record over and over that night, it completely floored me. I fell asleep to it, as I would many times afterward. It became a good friend, and still is.

- Headshot

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