BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Not one to gather moss, the rolling stone that is Willie Nelson follows up last year’s hit LP Heroes almost immediately with an altogether different beast: Let’s Face the Music and Dance. Rather than the whimsical, rollicking country of Heroes, Dance soaks itself in the kind of songs Nelson probably plays when the curtains are drawn and nobody’s looking. It’s as if he and his musician friends (including, of course, pianist Bobbie Nelson and harmonicat Mickey Raphael) were just jamming on old favorites and producer Buddy Cannon suddenly decided to hit the record button.
The result is a set of mostly jazzy pop tunes, including the Nat King Cole-popularized “Walking My Baby Back Home,” the Academy Award-winning “You’ll Never Know” from the musical Hello, Frisco, Hello and Irving Berlin’s title track, given expert performances that sound relaxed but not casual. On Frank Loesser’s The Perils of Pauline standard “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So,” for example, Nelson understates the vocal melody and lets its simplicity sell the sentiment, rather than laying down the fervor – the lovingly played guitar and piano solos don’t hurt, either. He also moves further afield than just pre-rock standardizing, gracing the record with a bouncing version of Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox,” a lovely take on the Platters’ “Twilight Time,” a gorgeous run through Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages” and an almost meditative version of his own “Is the Better Part Over.”
As Nelson’s vocal phrasing and Trigger picking have gotten ever more jazzy over the last decade, he sounds more at home and natural on these songs than on the country music for which he’s most celebrated, making Let’s Face the Music and Dance one of the most effortlessly enjoyable records in his large catalog.
DOWNLOAD: “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” “Twilight Time,” “Walking My Baby Back Home”