Willie Nelson

Country Favorites, Willie Nelson Style

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It may be hard to believe but Willie Nelson wasn't always a national icon. In the mid-'60s, he regularly hit the charts, except from behind the scenes as a busy and acclaimed songwriter. His own recordings were less successful until, in 1966, Country Favorites, Willie Nelson Style became his first album to enter Billboard's country album charts, staying there 17 weeks and eventually reaching number nine. Perhaps because the album is a collection of familiar songs, Nelson's idiosyncratic vocals went over better -- or maybe his time had just come -- but in any case, it's certainly a small treasure. Supporting Nelson was Ernest Tubb's wonderful band the Texas Troubadours, who went uncredited because they were under contract to a different record label. The Troubadours' experience and sympathetic ears made a reliable backing for Nelson as they tackled such material as "San Antonio Rose," "My Window Faces the South," "Heartaches by the Number," and "Columbus Stockade Blues." There's nothing cynical or calculated to their light swing and open-hearted feeling, despite such a potentially unpromising album concept. Nelson had already learned how to handle his unconventional voice effectively, giving these songs the honest freshness and sharp sense of rhythm that would characterize his later work. Like many rebels, Nelson has always shown a deep respect for tradition; here he shares his affection with everyone.

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