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Willie Nelson covers ‘Country’ classics

Willie Nelson took a straightforward approach when choosing a title for his latest album, a collection of covers of country songs dubbed, appropriately, "Country Music."
/ Source: Reuters

Willie Nelson took a straightforward approach when choosing a title for his latest album, a collection of covers of country songs dubbed, appropriately, "Country Music."

On the album, produced by T Bone Burnett and due April 20 on Rounder, Nelson delivers his distinctive, understated take on such classics as "Dark as a Dungeon," "Nobody's Fault but Mine," "My Baby's Gone" and "House of Gold."

"This is a group of songs that when they first came out, it didn't take them very long to become standards," Nelson says. "Just like 'Stardust,' 'Moonlight in Vermont,' 'All of Me' and 'Georgia' are considered standards, so are 'Dark as a Dungeon,' 'Freight Train Boogie,' 'Pistol Packin' Mama' and 'Satisfied Mind.' These are all standard songs from another field of music, but they are still the same category. They are just as good in their own way."

During his lengthy career, Nelson has covered a lot of musical territory, from spearheading the '70s outlaw movement in country music to recording "Stardust," a legendary 1978 album of standards. He tackled blues on 2000's "Milk Cow Blues," reggae on 2005's "Countryman," jazz on 2008's collaboration with Wynton Marsalis, "Two Men With the Blues," and Western swing on 2009's "Willie and the Wheel," a Grammy Award-nominated collection with Asleep at the Wheel.

"Country Music" marks his first collaboration with Burnett, who has won Grammys for the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack and for Alison Krauss & Robert Plant's "Raising Sand," as well as a recent Academy Award for the song "The Weary Kind" from "Crazy Heart."

"T Bone and I are old friends," Nelson says. "We were playing golf one day in California and started wondering why we never had done a record together, so we started talking about it."

‘The right songs’He credits Burnett with taking the lead on song selection. "He brought most of the songs to the session, called all the musicians together," Nelson says of the 15-track project, which was recorded in Nashville. "I trusted him and I knew he'd get the right guys and the right songs, and sure enough, I think he did."

Burnett also steered him toward Rounder, the 40-year-old Burlington, Massachusetts, label whose roster includes Krauss, Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Grascals. "Rounder is a great record label, and they distribute records the old-fashioned way: They get them out there to where people can find them," Nelson says.

That includes striking a deal with Starbucks. "That's a great promotion; I'm glad they are doing that," Nelson says. "It will be in Starbucks for the first four weeks after street date."

There's also an Amazon preorder campaign, and the label is working on partnerships with Borders, Barnes & Noble, Walmart and Target.

Rounder executive vice president and general manager Sheri Sands says promotional efforts include "heavy online marketing direct to the consumer and online advertising campaigns."

The direct-to-consumer approach will be a key part of the plan. "We will be doing e-mail campaigns to Rounder's list as well as coordinating with Willie's team and doing e-mail blasts from his Web site, utilizing all of the social networking sites and streaming tracks and sound clips from the album," Sands says.

Though his deal is for just one album, Nelson is already considering another. "It's a one-time deal, but I'm open to anything," he says. "We'll probably have another album. We cut 20-something songs, so we'll probably have another CD coming out at one time or another with the rest of the songs, and naturally, they would be on Rounder. It's a great label."