Possibly the greatest living country music icon, the inimitable Willie Nelson reached the ripe old age of 75 this year, and after glancing through the towering Texan's back catalogue, this reviewer would happily wager that at least the same number of compilations bearing his name have already been released. Which begs the simple but unavoidable question - surely quite literally everyone on the planet who wants a Best Of Willie Nelson CD, bar perhaps the occasional hunter-gathering Kalahari bushman who's just been given a dilapidated Discman by a benevolent tourist, must already have one?
Apparently not. As Morrissey once wrote, ''reissue, repackage, repackage, revaluate the song'', and that's precisely what Sony BMG have done with Legend - a soubriquet its subject admittedly deserves. An obscure singer-songwriter until well into his forties, Nelson suddenly hit the big time in the mid-seventies with his landmark crossover album The Red Headed Stranger, and since then he has occupied the mainstream like no other artist from his genre.
Willie's secret is that he has rarely restricted himself to just being a country performer, regularly introducing pop, rock, jazz, folk and blues influences into his sound which, combined with his relaxed, understated vocal style and free-spirited, colourful public persona, has made him much more accessible to a broader audience.
Whether it's his own compositions, notably the Patsy Cline-immortalised Crazy and his signature tune, On The Road Again, cover versions of timeless classics like Always On My Mind, or vintage '80s cheese such as To All The Girls I've Loved Before, Nelson is invariably as comfortable and easy to get into as that clichéd old pair of slippers. Yet as well as the famous hits, Legend also has a few less known gems - Townes Van Zandt's Pancho and Lefty and Steve Goodman's City Of New Orleans being two of the best examples.
If you like safe, mellow, impeccably delivered country-tinged renditions of some great songs by one of music's very best interpreters, then there's little doubt you'll like this album. But if you need to buy it now when the same record has already been released countless times before, where have you been hiding for the past 30 years? --Chris White
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