Willie Nelson’s third studio album in less than 18 months pairs the music icon with a who’s-who list of female vocalists for a moving collection of duets. To All The Girls…, which is available now, is a love letter to women everywhere as the 80-year-old entertainer orchestrates a thoughtful and inspired project.
Over the course of 18 songs pulling from Willie’s own catalog in addition to some well-chosen covers, To All The Girls… ranges from hopelessly in love (the swinging “Till The End Of The World” with Shelby Lynne) to ‘it’s complicated’ (“Somewhere Between” with Loretta Lynn) and even sad understanding (“She Was No Good For Me” with Miranda Lambert). The album might be a love letter, but that doesn’t mean it always has to have a happy ending. To All The Girls…, using mostly acoustic arrangements and with light jazz flourishes, does an excellent job capturing the different faces of the emotion. Pieces as different as the Latin-flavored “No Mas Amor,” where Alison Krauss’ harmonies are like a haunting memory, play a different – but equally honest – story as others like the daydreaming Sheryl Crow duet “Far Away Places.”
From the opening notes of “From Here To The Moon And Back” with Dolly Parton, Willie’s voice carries a sweetness that conveys the high level of respect he has for women the world over as well as those on this collection. Willie shares the stage with his partners on To All The Girls…, allowing them to spread out as on the stunning “Always On My Mind,” where Carrie Underwood delivers one of her most striking traditional-based performances on record. “Walkin’,” performed with Norah Jones, features her tender piano notes while “Bloody Mary Morning” leaves plenty of room for Wynonna’s fiery vocal.
Working with producer Buddy Cannon (Kenny Chesney, Jamey Johnson), Willie’s song choices are excellent. In addition to the emotional range presented, covers are also picked with care. A deep cut from Bruce Springsteen’s 1995 album The Ghost of Tom Joad, “Dry Lightning” with Emmylou Harris comes across with a stark beauty while the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” shimmers with a slowed tempo and help from Willie’s daughter Paula Nelson. The collection moves to a steady pace while songs like the Southern Gospel “It Won’t Be Very Long” (featuring The Secret Sisters) and the cheatin’ tune “After The Fire Is Gone” (with Tina Rose) begin to push the tempo. Willie is actually his strongest vocally on the quicker numbers where there is less need to hold notes. However, his fluttering vibrato on pieces like the Rosanne Cash duet “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends” is as unique and evocative as ever.
Willie makes sure to brush the album with his signature Tex-Mex sound using his famed six-string, Trigger, yet this project is all about the chemistry between him and his partners. The Wurlitzer-tinged “Grandma’s Hands” with Mavis Staples and slow-burning “Will You Remember Mine” featuring Lily Meola showcase impressive give and take. On a project defined by wonderful back and forth, Willie’s love letter To All The Girls… is well-received as the illustrious and talented voices on these selections show that the feeling is mutual.
Key Tracks – “Somewhere Between,” “She Was No Good For Me,” “Always On My Mind,” “After The Fire Is Gone”