Black Music Matters Festival

Willie Nelson

Always on My Mind – 2003 (Columbia/Legacy)

Reviewed by Eli Messinger

1982's "Always on My Mind" provides an example of Willie Nelson lending himself to another's vision. Producer Chip Moman's years at Stax lend a soulful palate to this collection of soul and pop material. The chart-topping title track tones down Elvis Presley's melodramatic showstopper, employing a more contemplative tone that digs deeply into the lyrics' painful loss. Similarly, Nelson drops the gospel fire from Aretha Franklin's "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" and finds a more tender groove.

Covers of pop hits like "A Whiter Shade of Pale" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" may now appeal as calculated crossover bids, but there's something original to be found in each. The high-harmony of the former and the cracked, wavery tone of the latter each stamp Nelson's signature on otherwise iconic songs. Moman's production dates many of these tracks, with electric piano and sax that sound more like bland mid-'70s than edgy '60s soul. "Always on My Mind" shows the varied success Nelson has found in the hands of others.