Music review: "To All the Girls"

CorrespondentOctober 26, 2013 

  • Collection Willie Nelson and friends To All The Girls

It may be exaggeration – though a slight one – to suggest that the singers Willie Nelson has recorded duets with could fill the Raleigh White Pages.

That’s not a knock against the Hall of Fame icon. Rather, it attests to Nelson’s artistic yearnings, versatility and ability to accommodate his personality to a nearly limitless collection of musical styles.

Nelson’s latest collaborative gem, “To All the Girls,” features 18 duets, each with a female vocalist of uncommon gift. Selections range from Willie country classics through pop, western swing, gospel and jazz.

The CD leads with Willie and Dolly Parton crooning the romantic “From Here to the Moon and Back.” From veteran songbird Dolly, Nelson joins reigning female vocalist of the year Miranda Lambert with “She Was No Good for Me,” the two seamlessly swapping lead and harmony vocals.

Aural delights are too numerous to mention them all, but a few are particularly noteworthy. “Far Away Places,” recorded by such luminaries as Bing Crosby, Perry Como and Dinah Shore, is given masterful treatment by Sheryl Crow, who adapts her phrasing to Willie’s in a brilliant reading of the 1948 pop standard.

With “Always on My Mind,” Carrie Underwood gives one of the finest performances of her career. Willie and gospel great Mavis Staples proffer a sanctified intergenerational nod to “Grandma’s Hands.” Norah Jones and Willie go country with “Walkin’,” and Emmylou Harris joins Willie on Bruce Springsteen’s impressionistic “Dry Lightning.”

Alison Krauss, Rosanne Cash and Loretta Lynn are among the other artists featured on this smartly crafted, enjoyable album blending Willie’s uniqueness with 18 of America’s most gifted female singers.

Correspondent Jack Bernhardt

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