The first song by Willie Nelson I ever listened to was “Gulf Coast Highway”, his duet with Emmylou Harris. The song was part of Emmylou’s 1992 compilation of duets, an album released to somehow piggyback on the success of the “Trio” collaboration with Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton. As you probably know by now, “Duets” was my first country album ever.
I regarded that particular duet as the emotional high point of the album, and that is a bold statement considering that “Love Hurts”, “That Lovin’ You’re Feelin’” and “Wild Montana Skies” are part of the same compilation. I immediately decided to learn more about Willie, and see which compilation could I find and get my hands on.
As it turned out, this 2 CD set was the one I could find. Now, to get the most immediate problem out of the way once and for all: Willie Nelson is a monumental composer. He made his name penning songs for others as early as the 50s before launching his career a decade later. This 2 CD compilation does not represent that. It showcases him as an excellent performer of other people’s songs. He covers Elvis, The Everly Brothers, Ray Charles, duets with Dolly Parton on her own “Everything’s Beautiful In Its Own Way”, with Julio Iglesias on “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before”… Every single track is not just good, but actually very enticing. But my point is that out of 30 tracks only 6 are written by him. And they are amazing – “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground” is mesmerizing and “On The Road Again” showcases himself in such a shape that many other selections seem anomalous.
Of course, this has hits. Plenty of them. “Always On My Mind” is a great song. So is the incredible duet with Merle Haggard named “Pancho & Lefty”, a song which deservedly topped the charts. Watch the performances now if the songs are not familiar to you:
The big crunch, then: is this album worth it? That depends. If you want to have most of his 70s and 80s hits and are happy to listen to Willie as a performer instead of as a composer, it will do the trick. In my case, I wanted to have a better understanding of the man as a songwriter. And I couldn’t have ended up feeling more disappointed. The fact that the best songs on the set are unanimously the ones he penned only aggravate the situation. Personally, this was not a good introduction. But the Willie-penned songs included gave me an added drive to try and find more of his own output, and that is something very positive – how just six songs could set me going like that. I guess that is a testament to his excellence as a composer.
Would I recommend purchase of this compilation: It depends (Read the final paragraph)
Do I feel like digging deeper into his catalog after listening to it: Yes