When superstar Kenny Chesney and veteran producer Buddy Cannon were approached about producing the iconic Willie Nelson, Chesney says he had two goals in mind. "I wanted to keep the element of Willie

When superstar Kenny Chesney and veteran producer Buddy Cannon were approached about producing the iconic Willie Nelson, Chesney says he had two goals in mind.

"I wanted to keep the element of Willie where he can sink his teeth into a great country song, but I also wanted to push him," he says. Nelson's stellar new album, "Moment of Forever," due Jan. 29 on Lost Highway, proves his goals were met.

The invitation to work with Nelson, 74, came after he guested on Chesney's version of "That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day)," a song Nelson recorded in 1979 with Leon Russell. The rough mix caught the attention of Nelson's manager, Mark Rothbaum, who asked if Chesney and Cannon would be interested in doing a full-blown project. "I wish I could say that I jumped at the chance," Chesney says, "but it came at a time when I was really tired from the end of my tour and I wanted to be sure that I had the mental energy that it'd take to have that guy's music in your hands.

"And just when I was needing it the most, God gave me Willie Nelson," he continues. "You never know where inspiration is going to come from."

Chesney admits he was a bit uneasy on the first day in the studio. "I hadn't been that nervous in awhile, especially making a record," he says. "I had my vision of what I wanted to do with Willie, but I didn't know if that was Willie's vision."

The feeling dissipated when Chesney walked into the studio. "Willie gave me a big hug," Chesney says. "Next thing you know, I was hanging out with my buddy."

The album includes a cover of Dave Matthews' haunting "Gravedigger," a song suggested by Chesney. "I just felt that that song could really suit Willie very well if we got it cut the right way," he says.

Nelson contributed three cuts: "Over You Again," which he wrote with sons Micah and Lukas, and two that he wrote solo, including the hilarious "You Don't Think I'm Funny Anymore" ("Did you hear the one about the dirty whore/Oh, I forgot . . . you don't think I'm funny anymore"). Chesney and Cannon also delivered songs for the project. The Kris Kristofferson and Danny Tims-penned title cut is classic Nelson.

Randy Newman's "Louisiana," originally written about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, finds new life as a commentary on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "We took the lyric and made it apply to today," Chesney says.

"The Bob Song," a funny and at times psychedelic testament to independence written by Big Kenny Alphin of Big & Rich, fits Nelson to a "t." "The carefree spirit of that song is kind of the way Willie is," Chesney says. A duet with Chesney, "Worry B Gone," was written by Guy Clark, Gary Nicholson and Lee Roy Parnell.

While nothing's set in stone, the three men may work together again. "I enjoyed doing it, and Kenny and Buddy both are great in the studio," Nelson says.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

Print