City of New Orleans

City of New Orleans

The last in a series of albums Willie Nelson recorded with producer Chips Moman at the singer’s private studio in Spicewood, Texas, City of New Orleans is known primarily for its hit title song, a rustling, atmospheric road tale written by Steve Goodman. Critics and fans wrongfully wrote off the rest of the album, which contains some amazing, and amazingly unusual interpretations. “Just Out of Reach,” “It Turns Me Inside Out” and “Cry” are among Nelson’s most devastating breakup songs, but the real tearjerker is “She’s Out of My Life,” a version of a song made famous by Michael Jackson in 1979. Willie sings it in a quavering high register not unlike Jackson’s, but the lived-in quality of the older man’s voice opens in the song new dimensions of regret. The cover of “Wind Beneath My Wings” might be the one example of Nelson overstepping the boundaries of his admittedly far-reaching taste, but he makes up for it with a bittersweet reading of “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues,” a sweet rumination on aging delivered at a time when the singer was first beginning to feel its effects.

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