Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Somewhere Over the Rainbow is a great unification of Django, Les Paul, and country swing played by master musicians—all playing timeless standards curated by the master songwriter, Willie Nelson.  Every now a then a beautifully genius piece of music has a genius artist perform that piece. And, Willie Nelson singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow makes a perfect combination of a song and a singer.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow helped listeners relate to standards as musical poems chronicling life experiences. Willie’s crew transformed tracks such as “Mona Lisa,” “I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You),” and “It Wouldn’t Be the Same Without You” into absolute heartbreakers with perfect accompaniment.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Willie Turn Songs Into Country 1

Willie Nelson (images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com)

A touch of contemporary music

What makes Nelson contemporary is the way his singing lets in the darkness. His voice coveys fear, loneliness, despair. And, that makes the lyrics emerge as statements of truth rather than as soothing homilies. In his conversational style, with its casual stop-start phrasing, he seizes the emotional kernels of songs, wrings out the words in a keening baritone, then shucks off the filler like chaff. Merle Haggard and George Jones may be more soulful, but they’re only singing about their own pain. Willie Nelson has a touch of the preacher in him. He can stand back, look outside himself and turn pop tunes into parables that have a universal, as well as a personal, meaning.

The album may be the most audacious album thus far in the revivalist phase of Nelson’s career. It’s certainly the clearest expression yet of his conviction that all enduring popular music — be it Southern blues. Nashville country or Hollywood soundtrack — is equally pure. Nelson can make just about anything he sings sound like “roots” music, stripped to the bone to reveal homely truths. He even reclaims “Somewhere over the Rainbow” from its vault in the Emerald City of pop mythology. Here, it sounds like a plainsman’s lullaby to himself as he squints into a Western sunset: awkward, touching, mystified.

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