Many mocked Willie Nelson when he announced plans to record an album of jazz and pop standards. Then, in 1978, Stardust dropped. Willie suddenly had a whole new audience--and a big-ass barrel of respect from across the world of music. Today, Willie's still considered the great-godfather of country's outlaw movement. So what would make more sense than doing the same thing for country classics that he once did for tunes like "Georgia on My Mind" and "Moonlight in Vermont?"
In Country Music, Nelson takes an old-school, minimalist approach to country, with fiddle, banjo, mandolin, pedal steel, and acoustic guitars taking a backseat to the songs, the stories, and his own gin-clear tenor. Produced by T Bone Burnett, the record includes Nashville talent like Buddy Miller on guitar and Jim Lauderdale on vocals, and the tunes are familiar to anyone who's listened to popular country music circa 1940-70.
Given Nelson's age and history, it's hard to hear Country Music as anything but a sincere tribute to the sound that has moved him since boyhood. Yet listening to Nelson and his band give black-velvet treatment to the Louvin Brothers' "My Baby's Gone," Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes' "Satisfied Mind," and Bill Mack's "Drinkin' Champagne," is the perfect antidote to the shit on a digital shingle that passes for country music on today's American radio. As such, it can also be considered as a gentle rebuke, and further evidence that Nelson has stayed true to his roots.
It's tragic that this album, hard-core country that it is, would not be recognizable as such to many of the millions of American listeners who pledge allegiance to the form. So here's an idea: If you know someone of that persuasion, gift them a copy of Country Music, and invite them to join you in a listening session over the beverage of your choice. If you don't, settle in on your own, pop a top, and let Willie take you back to the days when the jukebox cost a nickel and country was king.