Willie Nelson – Stardust Columbia JC 35305 (1978)
Here’s the album that (nearly) ruined Willie Nelson. The premise is that he performs jazz and pop standards like “Stardust,” “Blue Skies,” and “Someone to Watch Over Me” soullessly backed by Booker T. Jones arrangements. This was a multi-platinum smash hit. This is not so much country music as easy listening. Yet unlike the subtle pathos that someone like Nat “King” Cole could deliver with such an approach, Willie just coasts along on the surface of the songs, floating by on light, fluffy orchestration. This album helped cement some of Willie’s worst tendencies as a performer, giving him license to continue to avoid the “heaving lifting” of interpretive singing that involves seeking out an emotional or intellectual connection with the material and conveying it in a uniquely-suited performance. If you do like this, you’ll be happy to note that Nelson went on to make a truckload more almost just like it. Others may find this tediously boring. “Georgia on My Mind” is still really good.