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Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie

December Day (Willie's Stash Vol. 1) – 2014 (Sony Legacy)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie

A multi-tasker by nature - at age 81, Willie Nelson's constant output and frequent touring schedule puts any number of younger performers to shame - "December Day" offers another example of his ability to reinvent himself while shifting into the same melodic mode that made his original standards set "Stardust" so tempting and timeless. Consequently, most will celebrate this as a welcome return. While there's few genres Willie hasn't dabbled in throughout his five decades of active music-making, it's his ability to reinterpret the classics that forever ingratiates him to his wider audience.

Aptly then, this, the first in a promised series of re-imagined returns to Nelson's extensive catalogue, turns the spotlight on the Nelson's long-time brother/sister collaboration, a pairing that's been prominent both onstage and off. This time around, Bobbie Nelson's piano is brought further into the foreground as it intertwines with her brother's supple fretwork on the battered guitar, Trigger. Likewise, most will find the song selection readily familiar, with some material culled from Willie's own compositions ("Who'll Buy My Memories," "Permanently Lonely," "My Old Peculiar Way") and others drawn from familiar covers that exemplify his talent for uniquely reinterpreting songs etched in the American songbook ("The Anniversary Song," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "What'll I Do" "Always").

Still, it's necessary to express a word of caution to even the most avid enthusiasts. True to the basement tapes concept hinted at in the title, the arrangements are kept to a minimum. Aside from some harmonica contributed by long-time band member Mickey Raphael, little more than guitar and piano are used to flesh out the arrangements Nevertheless, the emotional commitment to the material is unwavering. Willie's known for his potent stash, and here he ignites it with his usual aplomb.