Willie Nelson, "American Classic"
More than 30 years after the release of Willie Nelson's highly acclaimed 1978 standards album "Stardust," the artist cracks open the Great American Songbook once again for his second Blue Note Records release. Produced by renowned adult contemporary producer Tommy LiPuma, "American Classic"-Nelson's finest album since 1998's "Teatro"-contains 12 timeless melodies that bridge the gap between Nelson's love for Django Reinhardt and Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. Backed by modern jazz greats like Joe Sample (piano) and Christian McBride (bass), the country legend delivers elegant takes on such certified ballroom gems as Bart Howard's "Fly Me to the Moon" and Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'." Nelson also steps out with two of jazz's loveliest ladies, singing duets with Norah Jones on Frank Loesser's "Baby It's Cold Outside" and with Diana Krall on a silky version of "If I Had You." But the real treat is a jazzy revision of "Always on My Mind" (which Nelson won a best country vocal performance Grammy Award for in 1982)-it's never sounded more heartbreaking than it does here. --Ron Hart