'Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin' and Nails 10 of 11 Classic Songs, Legacy [REVIEW]

By Mike Greenblatt m.greenblatt@classicalite.com | Mar 05, 2016 07:44 PM EST
Willie Nelson and Trigger (Photo : James Minchin)

Leave it to Willie Hugh Nelson, 82, to thank the Library of Congress in song for being the first country music artist to win the prestigious Gershwin Prize last year -- joining Paul Simon (the first such honoree), Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Hal David, Burt Bacharach, Carole King and Billy Joel-by releasing Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin (Legacy Recordings).

Although Cyndi Lauper tries her best to ruin the whole thing in her awful "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off" duet (Willie fares better during "Embraceable You" with Sheryl Crow), the rest of Summertime is sterling (although we already have "Someone to Watch Over Me" on Willie's 1978 Stardust (an album that stayed on the country chart for 520 weeks straight: that's 10 years in a row, kids). So that makes nine out of 11 wonderful new slices of unadulterated Willie singin' and a'strummin' to those ever-lovin' Brothers Gershwin (for the most part, George wrote melodies, Ira wrote lyrics).

At this point in his storied career, Willie is as much a jazz artist as he is country. His vocal phrasing -- lagging behind the beat as he does --  pure jazz. His guitar playing-influenced by Django Reinhardt [1910-1953] is also pure jazz.

The songs are wonderful, marvelous, awful nice, paradise (to paraphrase Gershwin's "S'wonderful" which is not on the CD). Ella Fitzgerald won a Grammy Award for her 1960 version of "But Not for Me" which comes from the 1930 Broadway musical Girl Crazy, as does "I Got Rhythm." The Four Lads turned "Somebody Loves Me" into a 1952 hit (George wrote it in 1924 with Ballard McDonald and Buddy DeSylva). "It Ain't Necessarily So" and the title tune come from 1935's Porgy and Bess musical. Interestingly enough, it flopped at first, causing George to chuck Broadway completely and move to Hollywood, where he would write film scores for the last two years of his short life where he died in 1937 at the age of 38 from a brain tumor.

The last song George Gershwin wrote, just weeks before he died, was "Love Is Here to Stay." Suffice it to say, Willie's version is oh-so-delightful, as is this whole CD (minus Lauper).

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