20 Songs, 57 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Long before Elton John brought his old friend Leon Russell back to public consciousness with their 2010 album The Union, Willie Nelson recorded this 1979 studio collection with the Oklahoma wild card. Granted, Russell wasn’t then far removed from his commercial peak, but Nelson was at the top of his popularity, and to release a double LP that shared the spotlight was an unusual and gutsy move. The decision was for these strong songwriters to cover their favorite songs, from Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light,” Elvis Presley’s "Heartbreak Hotel,” and Hank Thompson’s “The Wild Side of Life” to traditional material like “You Are My Sunshine” and “Danny Boy.” Being such superior stylists guaranteed intriguing results. The set starts in high gear but soon settles into a mellow, contemplative groove. “Summertime,” “That Lucky Old Sun,” and “Stormy Weather” find Nelson and Russell moving away from their traditional country and rock ’n’ roll toward the sounds explored on Nelson’s Stardust with a gritty touch all their own. 

EDITORS’ NOTES

Long before Elton John brought his old friend Leon Russell back to public consciousness with their 2010 album The Union, Willie Nelson recorded this 1979 studio collection with the Oklahoma wild card. Granted, Russell wasn’t then far removed from his commercial peak, but Nelson was at the top of his popularity, and to release a double LP that shared the spotlight was an unusual and gutsy move. The decision was for these strong songwriters to cover their favorite songs, from Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light,” Elvis Presley’s "Heartbreak Hotel,” and Hank Thompson’s “The Wild Side of Life” to traditional material like “You Are My Sunshine” and “Danny Boy.” Being such superior stylists guaranteed intriguing results. The set starts in high gear but soon settles into a mellow, contemplative groove. “Summertime,” “That Lucky Old Sun,” and “Stormy Weather” find Nelson and Russell moving away from their traditional country and rock ’n’ roll toward the sounds explored on Nelson’s Stardust with a gritty touch all their own. 

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About Willie Nelson & Leon Russell

Even before he became the Red Headed Stranger, Willie Nelson was already a Nashville songwriting legend, providing Patsy Cline with her 1961 signature tune, “Crazy.” But as a fledgling performer in his own right, the clean-cut honky-tonker’s humble approach and conversational croon was increasingly at odds with mainstream country music’s tilt toward variety-show glitz. Upon joining the post-hippie roots-music radicals taking over the Austin scene (and swearing off barbers forevermore), the Texas-born Nelson became an icon of the ’70s outlaw-country movement, favoring a stripped-down style that could both evoke desert-highway vistas (“On the Road Again”) and initiate the most intimate of conversations (“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”). But Nelson’s brand of down-home simplicity shouldn’t be confused with dogmatic purism (he’s also no stranger to adult-contemporary crossovers, like his duet with Julio Iglesias, “To All the Girls I've Loved Before”). Rather, he’s always searching for the most direct route to the soul of a song, whether he’s elevating the country standard “Always on My Mind” to the realm of modern hymn, or bringing a wistful, lived-in wisdom to Great American Songbook perennials like “Georgia on My Mind.” In the 21st century, Nelson’s outlaw ethos has continued to manifest itself in all sorts of surprising ways: He’s become America’s most visible pro-marijuana activist and Snoop Dogg’s unlikeliest duet partner.

HOMETOWN
Abbott, TX
GENRE
Country
BORN
April 29, 1933

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