[30th Anniversary Legacy Edition]
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2008, Volume 15, #7
Written by John Metzger
Wed July 30, 2008, 08:30 AM CDT
Itís doubtful that anyone recognized it at the time, but in the years that immediately followed the release of Red Headed Stranger, Willie Nelsonís star-making, progressive, and conceptual turn from 1975, he established the template for everything has followed. The rules were simple: defy both expectations and conventional wisdom. Most recently, he has jumped from reggae (Countryman) to a western swing tribute (You Donít Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker) to alternative and hardcore country fare (Songbird and Last of the Breed). In the late 1970s, he tested the waters with the eclecticism of The Sound in Your Mind before veering into gospel (The Troublemaker) and crafting an ode to the work of Lefty Frizzell (To Lefty from Willie).
Considering that after years of toiling in the background he had just begun to achieve some semblance of commercial success, Nelsonís 1978 endeavor Stardust probably was the riskiest move he ever has made. Building upon a handful of tracks that were featured on The Sound in Your Mind, Nelson opted to forsake the things that seemingly had started to make him popular. Instead of continuing with his country-oriented pursuits, he tapped Stax soul sensation Booker T. Jones to produce an album that was filled with standards from the Great American Songbook. Their unusual partnership didnít come together quite like anyone might have expected, but their shared perspective ultimately served not only to illuminate Nelsonís craftsmanship like nothing else in his canon had but also to make him a household name.
Stardust is an album that is baked in subtlety. Its arrangements are sparse and simple; its emotions are pure and honest. Throughout the set, Nelsonís masterful performances are shaped and guided by Jones, whose organ accompaniments float gently beneath the surface of tracks like All of Me and Georgia on My Mind. Similarly, Blue Skies is clouded by the melancholy phrasing that emanates from Bobbie Nelsonís piano and Mickey Raphaelís harmonica. Yet, the way in which Nelson delivers the lyrics turns it into a song of hope, albeit one that is sung from the perspective of a person who is standing within the maelstrom of catastrophic despair. Elsewhere, Unchained Melodyís gospel-tinged flavor redirects its sentiments from a lover to a higher power, while September Song adopts an air of pensive reflection.
Stardust is so relaxed and understated that, whether it was by design or by happenstance, it sounds, at times, as if it was meant to be a response to Jerry Garciaís Compliments. Aside from including a song by Irving Berlin (Blue Skies), Nelson also stuffs quite a few Django Reinhardt-inspired guitar solos into the endeavor. Yet, they unfold so effortlessly and slip so quietly into the framework of the music, that, at first, it seems as if they arenít even there. He also pays tribute to Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra, but in the end, it is Nelsonís own persona that guides the listener through the setís intense, emotional journey, giving the collection its own distinctive flair.
In the same fashion that Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies was amended, last fall, with a second disc of material featuring Bobby Bare performing Shel Silversteinís songs, the latest and indisputably definitive rendition of Stardust has been augmented with 16 bonus tracks that continue to trace Nelsonís tireless infatuation with the Great American Songbook. Naturally, his lovely interpretation of That Lucky Old Sun ó which sparked the creation of Stardust when he recorded it in 1976 ó is included on the set. Surprisingly, although many of the cuts were culled from Nelsonís outings during the 1980s, only a few of the selections ó What a Wonderful World and Ole Buttermilk Sky, in particular ó are marred by the synthetic arrangements that plagued a lot of his work from the era. While itís true that none of its extras are quite on par with anything from the original effort, the new version of Stardust does succeed in resurrecting a number of nuggets that otherwise might have been forgotten. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
Stardust: Legacy Edition is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box