Willie Nelson

Columbia / Legacy Records, 1978

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


When I was much younger, I remember going to my Uncle Tony's house for family celebrations of certain holidays. My uncle has, for as long as I can remember, been into country music - and when I was much younger, I absolutely hated country. So one year, while he was happily playing his new Willie Nelson tape Stardust for the family, I think I was trying to crawl underneath the jukebox he once owned.

That was 20 years ago - and now that I'm older and have developed an appreciation for Nelson's music (as well as country in general), I can understand what my uncle was so excited about with this release. Were it not for this album, Nelson might have only been known in the country music circuit as one of the leaders of "outlaw" country music. Instead, with this collection of old pop favorites that Nelson grew up on, he was able to bridge the gap between the two genres of music long before the term "crossover" would be used to describe an artist. Recently re-released with two additional tracks, it is an album that's sure to send people scrambling to replace their well-worn records and cassettes.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Nelson's vocal delivery might not always be the strongest, but often he makes up in emotion what he lacks in style. It is interesting to hear Nelson take on songs like "Unchained Melody" and give them his own unique spin. While there's the slimmest of chances that he'll knock the Righteous Brothers' version out of your memory, Nelson does a respectable job on this song, as well as the others on Stardust.

If you're not very familiar with the source material, you'd swear that Nelson wrote songs like "Georgia On My Mind" and "Scarlet Ribbons," the latter one of the two rediscovered tracks recorded during these sessions and added to the CD. But the fact is, Nelson didn't write note one on Stardust; all of these tracks are covers - and almost every one of them are performed so lovingly that Nelson has succeeded in making the songs his own. From Nelson's unique vocal stylings to his picking on his beat-to-hell classical guitar, listening to these tracks unfold is pure magic.

How do you pick one or two songs off Stardust to highlight as tracks to make sure you listen to? Simply put, I can't; from the title track all the way through "Someone To Watch Over Me" (the track that ended the original release of Stardust), this whole album is a must-experience wonder. The only miscue, in fact, comes on Nelson's cover of Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now". The original reggae flavor of the song is gone, and Nelson just doesn't seem to ever get into a groove with this one. Still, we're talking one mistake - and it's a late addition, so that's not a bad average at all.

If Stardust did anything for Nelson, it widened his exposure to an entirely new market. Had it not been for this track, I'd question if later songs like "On The Road Again" would have become smash hits - or whether tracks like "To All The Girls I've Loved Before," his duet with Julio Iglesias, would ever have happened. Stardust turned Nelson from an "outlaw" to a pop songsmith - and for that, we should all be thankful.

Rating: A-

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia / Legacy Records, and is used for informational purposes only.