Stardust – Willie Nelson – A Retrospective

Sometimes you fall into something you didn’t expect at all. 

I spent most of the late 2000s trying to dig deep into artists that I knew I loved. I did sort of a pretentious thing to learn about pop music: I just consumed every album on any listicle that I could find. The Rolling Stone 500. Pitchfork’s decade series. 1001 Albums. I listened to every single album on that list. 

With a few exceptions, this is how I first consumed most of my favorite artists/records. I ended that series somewhere in the early 2010s, and then it was empty for a while…..I tried doing the completionist route. Listen to every recording by every artist I love. I failed in this attempt. How many fucking albums you gunna cut Frank Zappa. Fuck you. 

So I just resigned myself to taking in whatever was coming across my field of vision. Anything related to an artist who had albums I loved was the easy ones. 

And that leads us here. I was a big fan of Red Headed Stranger and Pancho & Lefty. Willie really filled in alot of those country holes in a modern era of complete dogshit. 

Then I get this recommendation….can’t even remember from where. You should check out this one record. Its has a nice re-release…..


Willie must have just Columbia Records. I dont know how you can go in a place like that and say, “I want to do an album of standards from the american songbook.” But he fucking did it. The madman did it. And the results are exquisite. 

But I am getting ahead of myself. 

Ok, first, Vision. Thats what this album has. Vision. This is the kind of record people when they are old as shit, and have lost all creative drive. A cash-in. Not for Willie. He knew EXACTLY what he was going to do. No big band. No boisterous bullshit. Just let the songs breath. 

The production on this thing is damn near perfect. Well mixed music should always sound like this. The backing band Willie built seems to hoist his vocals up on a cloud.

Lets talk about Willie’s voice for one second. My grandmother once said he had no business singing. Here’s the thing. Not everyone needs to sound like Otis Redding or Whitney Houston. Willie’s voice doesn’t feel overproduced, and neither does the album seem like a vehicle for a vocal performance. Its a fucking song. Its supposed to blend together. For example, the much acclaimed Elvis cover of Unchained Melody. I hate it. Ben Folds has a term for this. “Soul Yodeling.” You lose something here. It takes something that is a real tender song and makes it into this big fucking showstopper. God I hate it. 

How does Willie do it?

Booker T Jones of Booker T and the MGs on the organ, ladies and gentlemen. He produced the record, and full credit to him too. He did alot of the arrangement on these standards and they are out of this WORLD. The man has a gift. What a legend. 

Ill close with this thought. No one really makes records like this anymore. Even really sad bastard music is way too overproduced and stupid. Nobody composes some shit. Sits down with a band and just plays it. 16 track production. What happened to all that. I dont blame digital; I blame laziness. An album like Stardust takes a ton of effort to do right. I guess its too taxing when you can just climb the charts on shitty repeating trap beats

But, we will always have Stardust. And, I appreciate it more and more every time I listen to it. You should give it a listen to. Listen to what a master at work sounds like. 

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