When Willie Nelson approached Columbia Records about making an album of classic American songs, they told him he was crazy. He was a writer, they said—why not write? Plus, they added, why would his young, country audience care about old Broadway and Hoagy Carmichael songs, anyhow? They wouldn’t, Willie said, but older people would, and the young ones would just figure he had written them in the first place. Ten songs, each of them a favorite from Willie’s childhood, a handful of them dating to before his birth in 1933. Recorded in a living room with a mobile studio in the Hollywood Hills. No touch too heavy, no tempo above a resting heartbeat. The arrangements—by Memphis soul legend Booker T. Jones, who also produced—are spacious, the sound ethereal (“Stardust,” “Georgia on My Mind”). All feelings, however big, are rendered with sweetness and distance, as though being looked back on from a point beyond life (“Unchained Melody”). Willie reaches for melodies the way one might reach to pet the family dog: lovingly, without drama or strain. There’s a folk quality to it, but also a sophistication. Just as Ella Fitzgerald’s mid-’50s recordings of Cole Porter helped prove the artistic validity of jazz to white audiences skeptical of its working-class Blackness, Stardust proved that a country scrub from Texas could sound as poised as Frank Sinatra and twice as subtle too (“Moonlight in Vermont”). With Stardust, Willie sketched a constellation of music that collapsed country and jazz, Black and white, Broadway and Nashville, highbrow and low. Some things are just plain old—Stardust is timeless. 

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