thu 13/06/2024

CD: Willie Nelson - Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Willie Nelson - Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin

CD: Willie Nelson - Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin

Standards issue: Gershwin Prize-winning Willie pays tribute

Summertime: with Willie, George and Ira

While his old friend and sometime touring companion Bob Dylan has just re-entered Capitol Studios to record a new set of standards to follow the Sinatra-inspired Shadows in the Night, Willie Nelson’s latest release for Sony Legacy focuses solely on the brothers Gershwin – he was awarded the Gershwin Prize in 2015.

Nelson, for whom this territory is like a second skin, and one he wears lightly, picks out a most charming late-career foray into the gold standard of American popular song. It's the latest in a fairly long list of albums in the genre, topped by his first, 1978's Stardust. Since then, he’s mined that vein through the likes of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Without a Song from the Eighties, and his sprightly Blue Note set from 2009, American Classic. While the world is not short of singers putting their name to the Great American Songbook – maybe there should be a tax on it – Nelson as a songwriter is a part of that world in a way that most others, including Dylan, aren’t (his is more the world of American apocrypha, utterly singular).

Buddy Cannon, co-writer and producer for Nelson’s recent years at Legacy, once again calls the musicians and arrangements, and lets his guitar Trigger and Mickey Raphael’s harmonica roam free around the fixed stars of these perfectly formed gems – the likes of “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So”. Sister Bobbie contributes fine piano, and there’s good work on steel guitar from Paul Franklin, while David Pitch’s double bass steps up, stands out and carries the songs briskly without spilling a drop.

The quality dips a bit on duets with Cyndi Lauper and Sheryl Crow, but hits a high with sister Bobbie and Mickey Raphael on album closer “Summertime”, wraithed in an arrangement that puts me in mind of Dylan's "Blind Willie McTell" – just piano, bass, harmonica and voice, a voice relaxed and wide, contained and seemingly effortless in its flow. Willie is the master of No Sweat, as if it cost him nothing to come this far and all the while not move beyond talking distance from his source, and these source songs. 

Nelson picks out a most charming late-career foray into the gold standard of American popular song


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters