There’s no mistaking Willie Nelson’s voice. It’s an old friend, and it’s a wonderful thing to hear that voice taking on pop standards like “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “On the Street Where You Live,” among others. It was brilliant when he did it on “Stardust,” and the hope must have been to create something similar to that classic with this new release.
However, the two albums differ substantially in approach. Whereas “Stardust” had Willie backed by his own band, “American Classic” has him backed primarily by a jazz trio of studio musicians (drums, upright bass, piano). Two jazz singers also join him: Diana Krall (“If I had You”) and Nora Jones (“Baby It’s Cold Outside”). Perhaps the strangest difference is the total absence of Willie’s guitar, “Trigger.”
It’s not that the playing is bad – quite the contrary. All of it is top-notch and seems very fitting to the material, but while Willie’s voice is more than capable of holding it’s own with the band, it always seems slightly out of place. The magic that was on “Stardust” is never quite there; it just doesn’t have the same warmth, the same looseness.
Still, it’s tough to argue with that voice and these songs. It’s certainly a good companion to “Stardust,” even if it doesn’t quite reach the same heights.