Black Music Matters Festival

Willie Nelson

Stardust – 1999 (Columbia/Legacy)

Reviewed by Dan Williams

It's rare these days for any artist's odd commercial smash to remain among the most charming releases in their catalogue. Willie's "Stardust" is just that - a huge record in its time that still sounds as fresh and vital as it did upon its 1978 release.

The concept was simple: a collection of standards and personal favorites delivered in his spare, intimate style. It was perhaps the success of 1975's "Red Headed Stranger" that allowed such a radical move, and these are songs commonly associated with Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, The Righteous Brothers, Lottye Lenya and George Gershwin, among others. Just doesn't matter. Willie makes them his own. From Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" to Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust," Nelson inhabits these songs as he would a pair of old jeans. It's a soulful and very elegant recording that will stand up to any number of repeated listenings. Back-to-roots cover albums seem de regiuer these days, but few have given it up with so much heart.

"A great song is a great song," Nelson says in the liner notes. He was right then, and he's right now.