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Album Review: Willie Nelson, 'To All the Girls'


He’s back — with his third album in 16 months. Obviously any fan concerned about Willie Nelson being as prolific now that he’s eighty as he was in previous decades can put all concerns to rest. With this trio of releases under his new deal with Legacy, the legend seems to have entered a whole new phase in his career.

“Heroes” started it all in May 2012, debuting at Number 18 on the Billboard charts and ultimately spending five weeks at Number One on the American Radio chart. Uncut magazine hailed the album as being “as spirited as it is poignant.” And while its strength came from the duets (with male artists), despite the accolades Nelson was already at work on a follow-up with just himself on the mic, “Let’s Face The Music And Dance.”

Released two weeks before his 80th birthday, and simultaneously marking forty years playing with Family, “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” featured Nelson’s interpretations of standards across a variety of genres and promptly went Top 20 on Billboard’s Country charts. Praise came from fans and critics alike, including Paste magazine, calling it “his strongest and most engaged performances in a decade.” So how does “To All The Girls…” compare? As they say, third time’s the charm.

Combining the duet concept of “Heroes” with the easygoing approach of “Let’s Face The Music And Dance,” the new album finds Nelson sharing the spotlight on eighteen varied tracks with eighteen different female singers. Recorded mostly in Nashville, these are classic songs from the ‘40’s through the ‘70’s, plus more recent ones from the 2000’s, including Nelson’s own compositions.

The piano and strings of Dolly Parton’s “From Here To The Moon And Back” sets the stage for the quality of performances to come, her vocal the perfect counterpoint to Nelson’s.  Steel guitar underscores the slow lament of Waylon Jennings’ “She Was No Good For Me” with Miranda Lambert joining Nelson. Then a harmonica and some great pickin’ pick up the pace on “It Won’t Be Very Long,” featuring  The Secret Sisters.   

Kris Kristofferson’s “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends” has great interplay between Rosanne Cash and Nelson, while vintage gem “Far Away Places” features a lightly swinging, jazzy feel, and a silky-smooth performance from Sheryl Crow.  Then just to mix things up, along comes a new take on Nelson's own “Bloody Mary Morning.” It’s a blast, the fast tempo complemented perfectly by Wynonna Judd’s barnstorming vocal.

And that’s just the first half-dozen tracks. With other stellar vocal turns by talents ranging from Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris and Mavis Staples to Carrie Underwood, Shelby Lynne and Alison Krauss, “To All The Girls…” is a rare example of quantity and quality.