Willie Nelson

That’s Life

My Way, Willie’s 2018 Grammy-winning Frank Sinatra homage, clearly didn’t satiate his desire to explore songs by the vocalist whose style profoundly influenced his own. With the same co-producers (Buddy Cannon and keyboardist Matt Rollings) and many of the same musicians, he interprets 11 more songs on his terms. To his credit, he avoided the original, now-iconic ’50s and ’60s arrangements by Nelson Riddle and others.

Nearing 88, his voice is a bit rougher but Willie’s distinctive phrasing remains. He thrives in the jazzier settings, dominated by Rollings, L.A. guitarist Dean Parks, Nashville pedal-steel master Paul Franklin and, of course, Trigger. An easygoing “Nice Work if You Can Get It” features a supple, boppish Franklin break. Parks injects a solid solo into an aggressive “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Trigger emerges on “You Make Me Feel So Young” and the stomping, gospel-flavored “Lonesome Road.”

On “That’s Life,” he adheres more faithfully to Sinatra’s R&B treatment (the only way to sing it), enlivened by Mickey Raphael’s harmonica and Franklin. Franklin and Parks subtly accent and embellish the Latin-flavored big-band arrangement of “Luck Be a Lady,” with Franklin uncorking another brief (but focused) chorus, much the way he does on “Learnin’ the Blues.”

This article originally appeared in VG’s May 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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