Willie Nelson Pays Tribute to the Gershwins

Willie Nelson’s upcoming album pays homage to the songwriting brothers George and Ira Gershwin. Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin (2016) reminds us that Nelson’s acoustic guitar Trigger and his voice are two of the best friends a music standard can have.

In 1978, Willie Nelson surprised many with his album devoted to the Great American Songbook, Stardust. But nowadays, nobody is really surprised when Nelson ventures outside classic country music in areas such as reggae, jazz, or blues.

On songs such as “Summertime,” Willie Nelson proves he is still one of our great song interpreters with his version of the often-covered “Summertime.” Check out Willie and Trigger on “Summertime” below.

The album features such classics as “I Got Rhythm” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” Below, is his new version of “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which he had previously covered with a different arrangement for Stardust.

A few other singers join Nelson on a couple of the tracks. Cyndi Lauper joins Nelson on a playful “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.” And Sheryl Crow helps out on “Embraceable You.” For a limited time, you may listen to songs from the album on NPR.

Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin hits stores and the Internet on February 26, 2016.

What is your favorite Willie Nelson cover of an American standard? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Dylan’s Late-Career Classics: Mississippi

    Stayed in (the) Mississippi Too Long

    On May 8, 1541, explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto became one of the first Europeans to reach the Mississippi River. A little more than a year later on May 21, 1542, still on a search for silver and gold in what would become the southern U.S., de Soto died from a fever on the banks of the Mississippi River. His men, not wanting the Native Americans to discover that de Soto was not divine, buried his body in the river.

    Blinded by his search for precious metals, the Spaniard could not have foreseen the real value of the water with a name that came from an Ojibwe word for “Great River.” And de Soto could not have predicted that a state would take its name from the river.  And he would not know that it all eventually would lead one of the land’s greatest songwriters, born in a state that hosts the headwaters of the mighty river, to use “Mississippi” as the title of one of his late career classics.

    Bob Dylan’s “Mississippi”

    We continue our series on Bob Dylan’s Late Career Classics with a listen to “Mississippi,” from Love and Theft (2001). Dylan continues to write outstanding songs, but in this series we consider songs that are classics in the sense they are not only identified with Dylan but appear in excellent cover versions, much like many songs from his early catalog.

    I am not the only fan of Dylan’s “Mississippi.” Rolling Stone has proclaimed that “Mississippi” is the seventeenth best song of the 2000s, comparing it favorably with Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue.” Further, the magazine ranks it 260th out of the greatest songs of all time.

    Dylan must have sensed something special in the song because he made several versions of the song while trying to get it right. He initially recorded it for Time Out of Mind (1997).  But he eventually left it off that album because he did not like Daniel Lanois’ arrangement.

    So “Mississippi” first appeared on an official release several years later on Love and Theft. Here is Bob Dylan performing the song live in 2002.

    Sheryl Crow’s Cover

    Because of the delay in Dylan releasing his own version, someone else released a cover version of “Mississippi” before Dylan released the song. Dylan first gave it to Sheryl Crow, who recorded it for her 1998 album The Globe Sessions.

    In this video Sheryl Crow explains how Dylan contacted her to ask if she wanted to record the song:

    Dylan’s Slow Acoustic “Mississippi”

    Dylan has released alternate versions of “Mississippi.” For my money, the best version is Dylan’s slower acoustic performance of “Mississippi.” This version leads off Dylan’s 2008 album of late-career lost songs and alternate takes, Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8, which as a 2-CD set included two versions of the song and as a 3-CD expensive deluxe version included three “Mississippi’s.”

    There are a few good covers of this slower version, including one from “Blues From a Hammock.” And in this cover, Scottish singer-songwriter Rob Naokes does nice job covering the wonderful acoustic version.

    Other artists have performed the song too. The Dixie Chicks, like Crow, make a rocking version of the song:

    What is “Mississippi” Really About?

    Many have speculated about the meaning of Dylan’s “Mississippi.” One writer claimed the song is influenced by the poetry of Henry Rollins. Rolling Stone claims it is “both a romantic promise and a hint of doom.”

    The lyrics reveal past regrets (“So many things that we never will undo / I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too”). But at the same time, there are moments of humor and hope (“I know that fortune is waiting to be kind / So give me your hand and say you’ll be mine”).

    The singer recalls there is only one thing he did wrong, he “stayed in Mississippi a day too long.” Yet, what happened in Mississippi remains a mystery to the listener.

    Dylan knows that sometimes it is best to let the listener fill in the blanks. “Mississippi’s” magic is in one’s imagination, more powerful than the imaginary gold and silver that led de Soto to his grave in the great river.

    What do you think “Mississippi” is about? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    (Daylight Savings) Time Has Come Today

    Happy Daylight Savings Time! As you set your clocks an hour ahead, you might consider the history of the day as well as an appropriate song. On February 9, 1942, a law passed by Congress pushed ahead all U.S. clocks by one hour for the upcoming years. President Franklin Roosevelt advocated the year-round Daylight Savings Time, which was called “war time,” as a way to save fuel for the Allied war efforts. The law remained in effect until September 30, 1945 when Congress repealed it. A similar national law that turned back the clocks for seven months of the year had been in effect during World War I. But after both World War I and after World War II, the wars’ ends meant that states could once again regulate their own standard times.

    Eventually, in 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act imposing a uniform standard for states to follow Daylight Savings Time, although allowing state legislatures to vote for an exemption. In the 1970s and 1980s Congress made additional changes to the law, including setting the time and date for when Daylight Savings Time begins. A 2005 law extended the Daylight Savings Time ending date from October to November, so now Daylight Savings Time begins at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday of March and ends at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of November.

    An appropriate song for Daylight Savings Time is the 1967 release “Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers.

    The song has been covered by a number of people, including Joan Jett, the Ramones, and Steve Earle (with Sheryl Crow). The song seems to be loved by some great film directors. Hal Ashby used it in a key scene in Coming Home (1978); Brian De Palma used it in Casualties of War (1989); Oliver Stone used it in The Doors (1991); and Spike Lee used it in Crooklyn (1991). The song appears in several other films too, including Remember the Titans (2000), The Zodiac (2006) and many others according to Wikipedia.

    In 2012, though, the use of the song was back in the news. Lester Chambers, the lead singer of the Chambers Brothers reached out to fans because he and the band often did not receive royalties for the use of their songs. Chambers explained that he is living on $1,200 a month and relying upon money from a musician’s charity when all he wants is what is rightly his. The campaign has attracted the support of Yoko Ono and others. Check out Lester Chambers’s video today.

    The law can change the clock, but can it turn back time to give justice to Lester Chambers? March 2013 Update: Through help from Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, Reddit, Kickstarter and attention through various media outlets, Lester Chambers — who had faced homelessness and health issues — is doing better and once again making music. He survived when someone attacked him during a performance in 2013 after he dedicated a song to Trayvon Martin. As of 2014, Chambers is playing with Lester Chambers and the Mud Stompers.

    What do you think if Daylight Savings Time? What do you think of Lester Chambers’s campaign? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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