Not one to rest on his laurels, Willie Nelson's second studio release of the calendar year finds the artist dipping back into the Great American Songbook. Previous collections, including 1978's stellar Stardust, 2009's "American Classic" and 2016's "Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin," established Nelson as one of the finest modern interpreters of American standards. So, it is only fitting that he now pays tribute to the man widely recognized as the genre's standard-bearer, the late Frank Sinatra.
Nelson again paired with the production team of Buddy Cannon and Matt Rollings, the duo behind his Grammy Award-winning Gershwin album, and the results are no less impressive.
Rollings' arrangements, which are clearly jazz-inspired, but include sly nods to Nelson's country music roots, don't stray far from the versions popularized by Sinatra while leaving enough room for Nelson to make them his own.
Like Sinatra, Nelson is known for his unique approach to vocal phrasing that finds him meandering around the beat. The plucky "A Foggy Day" is an excellent example of this style, as is "Fly Me To The Moon," which features an appropriately idiosyncratic acoustic guitar solo from Nelson's trusted Trigger.
Nelson's unique phrasing is at its most inspired on "Young At Heart," during which the singer alternates between staccato lines and more languid passages. Trigger again makes an appearance that is as playful as the song's vocal sections.
Nelson enjoyed a close friendship with Sinatra, and the love he had for "Old Blue Eyes" is most evident on both "It Was A Very Good Year" and the title track, both of which benefit from soaring strings and long-time Nelson collaborator Mickey Raphael's distinctive harmonica contributions. There is a somber reverence to these reflective tracks that makes them the most personal statements on this fantastic tribute.