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Album Review: Willie Nelson, 'Let’s Face The Music And Dance'


Consider it a birthday present from Willie Nelson. Because on the eve of his 80th, “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” is an unexpected collection that fans will think of as a gift from an extraordinary artist, still going strong after a six-decade career as America’s favorite country music outlaw.

Of course, Nelson hasn’t made that journey alone, and once again he’s joined by the Family — the band he formed forty years ago with his sister Bobbie on piano, drummer Paul English and harmonica player Mickey Raphael…not to mention Nelson jamming on Trigger, his trusty guitar. Paul’s brother Billy English adds electric guitar and drums, Kevin Smith bass, Jim “Moose” Brown organ and Willie’s son, Micah, percussion.

 “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” takes listeners on a journey of its own, turning the pages of the American songbook to the ’30’s, ‘40’s and ‘50’s. Nelson selected classics from legendary songwriters like Irving Berlin, Carl Perkins, Frank Loesser and Django Reinhart, and for good measure, a new interpretation of one of his own songs, 1989’s “Is The Better Part Over.”

While the diversity of songs makes the album unique, it’s the way Nelson owns each and every one that makes it so enjoyable — and so accessible to both his own fans and followers of these time-tested standards. Pop, rock and jazz are transformed by his inimitable style and sound right at home with his country selections.

The title track gets the album swinging in a jazzy groove that continues with the piano of “You’ll Never Know” and the brushed drums of “Walking My Baby Back Home.” And the same way Nelson makes “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” sound fresh, he gives new life to “Twilight Time” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” The great guitar solo on “I’ll Keep On Loving You” is only bettered by the high-energy rockabilly of “Matchbox,” with Willie’s frequent shout-outs to his “little sister” on the tracks proof that a good time is being had by all the players.

Country tunes “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So” and “South Of The Border” take the tempo down a notch and bring the harmonica up in the mix, while instrumentals “Vous Et Moi” and “Nuages” round out a set that shows both a musician and the music masterfully standing up to the test of time.