Release Date: Apr 16, 2013
Record label: Sony Legacy
Genre(s): Jazz, Country
Willie Nelson turns 80 this year, and this album is the first in a series of releases and events to celebrate the landmark: fresh recordings of pop and country classics dating as far back as the year of Willie’s birth. As an exercise in showcasing the singer’s inimitably laconic way with a variety of styles it’s a real winner. Irving Berlin’s title track, shorn of its song-and-dance glitz, is re-imagined as low-key cantina shuffle with hints of foreboding; Carl Perkins’ Matchbox becomes a harmonica-led country-blues shuffle; and The Platters’ lush ballad Twilight Time is just plain gorgeous when given a tender jazz makeover.
Family has been backing Willie Nelson for longer than you’ve been alive. The group first showed up on 1971’s Willie Nelson & Family and have toured with him off and on for four decades, enabling his intuitive jumps between country and jazz, pop standards and Western Swing jams. In addition to longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael and drummer Paul English, Family includes actual family: Willie’s sister Bobbie proves just as nimble on the keys as her brother is with a guitar.
Willie Nelson’s new label, Legacy, is billing the legend’s new album, Let’s Face the Music and Dance as timed to coincide with Willie’s 80th birthday. True enough, but Willie would be putting out another album now no matter the occasion: He’s been on a two-album-per-year pace for as long as anyone can remember. Such a pace is particularly amazing given the fact that no single artist in popular music history is more synonymous with the road than Willie Nelson.
Although he's regarded as one of America's great living songwriters, Willie Nelson's interpretive talents have resulted in just as many career highpoints. It was Nelson's 1978 album of jazz and pop standards, Stardust, which solidified his mainstream popularity, and frequently revisiting that concept has kept Nelson on solid artistic ground in between sometimes questionable ventures into other genres. This holds true with Let's Face the Music and Dance, a 14-track collection inspired by songs on which Nelson and sister Bobbie (also his long-time pianist) cut their musical teeth.
Once again repeating a pattern that's quite familiar from over the past two decades, Willie Nelson follows up his star-studded 2012 Legacy duet with Let's Face the Music and Dance, an intimate record of standards recorded with his longtime backing band, the Family. Apart from Willie's son Micah, there are no guests here -- just his sister Bobbie on piano, drummer Paul English, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, Kevin Smith on bass, Jim "Moose" Brown on organ, and Billy English batting cleanup on guitar and drum -- and the album sounds as if it were cut in the living room late one night, the bandmembers easing into songs they've always loved but never played. This may include Willie's original "Is the Better Part Over," a neglected tune from the late '80s, but the emphasis is on standards from the Great American Songbook, punctuated by a bit of Western swing and rockabilly (the latter arriving via a cover of Carl Perkins' "Matchbox").
Following last year's resurgent debut for Sony Legacy, Heroes, Willie Nelson returns with full Family Band intact. The set captures Nelson again transforming the American popular songbook into his own with the ease of his distinctly languorous phrasing and guitar work. Starting in his birth decade with Irving Berlin's title track, the Red Headed Stranger adds a flamenco touch that darkens the edges of his gentle reassurance, which pairs well with the midset "Twilight Time." Absent of new originals, Face the Music revisits Nelson's "Is the Better Part Over," spared the cinematic strings of the original.