Willie Nelson is no stranger to the great American songbook, having written a few chapters of it. This collection of twelve Tin Pan Alley classics is the stylistic follow- up to Stardust, Nelson’s chart-topping 1978 set of standards (newly reissued as a two-disc Legacy Edition). It boasts some rich renditions by the masterful singer who moved three decades ago beyond the confines of your average country crooner. American Classic covers much of the same terrain as Stardust—including covers of “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Since I Fell for You,” and the recession-ready “Come Rain or Come Shine”—but is also overshadowed by its predecessor.
The disc features a pair of duets: the wistful piano ballad “If I Had You” with Diana Krall, and the sultry “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Norah Jones (the album’s standout track).
Overall, the production by Tommy LiPuma is polished, the songs bathed in a warm sentimentality that befits Brenda Lee’s tear-jerker “Always on My Mind.” But American Classic lacks the emotional depth of the stellar Stardust sessions. At times, as on Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” Nelson’s delivery is breezy. He’s more engaging on the bluesy “Since I Fell for You,” which features harmonica and a beefy organ-backed combo. More of that might have made for a true classic.