Willie Nelson's new album To All The Girls... debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard Top 200, giving the Red Headed Stranger his highest position on the all-genre chart since Always on My Mind peaked at the No. 2 in 1982. It's the second album released this year by the wandering workhorse, following Let's Face The Music And Dance in April.
To All the Girls… references Nelson's 1984 No. 1 hit, "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," which he sang with Julio Iglesias. Although the song is not featured, Nelson does cover five of his own tunes among her disc's 18 tracks. The general concept is pairing Nelson with a variety of female singers, such as Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow, Carrie Underwood, Nora Jones, Loretta Lynn, Mavis Staples, Miranda Lambert, Alison Krauss, Roseanne Cash, Wynona Judd and Shelby Lynne.
Nelson starts the disc off with a slow dance on "From Here to the Moon and Back" with Parton; it's a song she wrote for the soundtrack of Joyful Noise, her 2012 movie with Queen Latifah. The collaboration between the two Country Music Hall of Fame inductees is flat-out perfect.
Fellow country music legend Lynn shines on Merle Haggard's "Somewhere Between" as Mike Johnson plays a hypnotic steel-pedal in the background. For Waylon Jennings' "She Was No Good For Me," Nelson selected current country bad girl Lambert. For Kris Kristofferson's "Please Don't Tell Me How The Story Ends," he invited Johnny Cash's daughter, Roseanne.
"Till the End of the World," with Alabama native Lynne, is a Western Swing toe-tapper that would make Bob Wills proud. He teams up with Krauss on the Latin-infused "No Mas Amor." This duet sounds like it was recorded in a 1920s Mexican border town cantina.
My favorite duet on the album is "Grandma's Hands" with R&B diva Mavis Staples adding passion, soul and believability to the Bill Withers original.
Other notable pairings are "Making Believe" with Brandi Carlisle (she co-wrote "Follow Your Arrow" with Kacey Musgraves) and John Fogerty's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain" with Nelson's daughter Paula sitting in.
Three things that are prominent throughout the album: Nelson's gritty but soothing voice, his trusty guitar Trigger and Mickey Raphael's steady harmonica licks. At 80, Nelson continues to perform with vigor. He's a national treasure.