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By John Hughes
Willie Nelson has turned in a quietly elegant album that showcases his singing talent in its burnished, golden essence. It Always Will Be is perhaps not on the level of Nelson’s masterpieces, Red-Headed Stranger and Stardust, but it is among his top ten records (out of over 100). The title cut is a classic of Texas Mellow, and the duets with Paula Nelson, Lucinda Williams, and Norah Jones, flowing from a bluesy feel to country to pure jazz, evoke Nelson’s finest singing in recent memory. The women are in superb voice as well, and these three songs are the backbone of the disc.
A weak moment is Nelson’s cover of Tom Waits’ brilliant “Picture in a Frame.” Whereas Waits’ rendition features a deeply resonant piano, and Satchmo-style vocalizing, Nelson’s sounds like Muzak. The guts are gone from the song. This is quickly forgiven, however, and forgotten, because from there Nelson quickly moves onto his home turf with the delicious “The Way You See Me.”On the whole, the disc evokes dreamy reverie as the songs melt seamlessly into one another. The consistent use of electronic instruments is a slight annoyance, and the album’s sound could have been improved with a switch to acoustic guitars. Still, there is no denying that Nelson, despite his lack of vocal range, is a tremendous singer. His immaculate taste in songs is evident here, and after he closes the album with a Latin-tinged song called “Texas,” the listener walks away from the experience with a tranquil heart.