Willie Nelson – Remember Me, Vol. 1

For Remember Me, Vol. 1, Willie Nelson, one of country’s undeniably great singers and songwriters, hand-picked 14 hits from some of his favorite singers and songwriters, including George Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. But more than just a cool covers collection, the album is an entertaining trip through some 70 years of music history, and a reminder of why these classics are still so exciting and moving.

The oldest, “Roly Poly,” is a jaunty Bob Wills tune that dates back to 1946. The newest is Vern Gosdin’s devastating breakup song from 1989, “That Just About Does It.” There’s the walking wounded weeper, “Today I Started Loving You Again,” by Haggard and Bonnie Owens, Hank Snow’s chooglin kiss-off, “I’m Moving On,” and a hip rendition of the Merle Travis/Tennessee Ernie Ford signature, “Sixteen Tons.”

The production by Nelson’s longtime buddy James Stroud brings tight, traditional swing, honky tonk and hard country stylings to the tracks, while making good use of the tasty playing of studio stalwarts such Eddie Bayers (drums), David Hungate (bass) and Sonny Garrish (steel). But it’s Nelson’s supple, emotive voice that anchors everything, leaping from a little ditty like “This Old House” and delving into a deep one like “Satisfied Mind,” giving each song just what it needs.

One small surprise is “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” which makes the definitive Kristofferson/Cash outlaw anthem sound almost celebratory in its sleepy sidewalk ramble through scenes of hungover misery and existential loneliness. But, somehow, like the rest of Remember Me, Vol. 1, it  works. Here’s hoping Vol. 2 is nearly as good.

Willie Nelson
Remember Me, Vol. 1
[R&J]