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Monday, Aug. 4, 2008

Willie Nelson

Stardust: Legacy Edition (Columbia/Legacy)

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Pop and country music were never entirely isolated from one another. Some of the material sung by the early generations of country recording artists originated on Tin Pan Alley before seeping into the folk traditions of the South. Later, Tony Bennett recorded Hank Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart” and, during the early ’60s, Nashville’s “countrypolitan” acts aimed for crossover appeal. Still, it was considered unusual in 1978 when outlaw country singer Willie Nelson recorded an album of old pop standards named for a Hoagy Carmichael favorite, Stardust.

It was so commercially successful and enjoyable for Nelson that he continued to dip into the Great American Songbook for years to come. Stardust: Legacy Edition packages the 1978 LP with a second disc of standards recorded by Nelson in the ’80s and ’90s. With a reedy grain in his voice, Nelson was no bel canto singer, no Sinatra, but he sang the old songs with conviction. The original Stardust was produced by ’60s soul man Booker T. Jones, who gave Nelson a low-key grounding with a comfortable combo drawing from country and R&B while sounding like neither. The high point was Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” in a performance true to its Jewish cantor melancholy, belying the optimism of the lyrics.