At first glance, you might not find a lot of similarities between the outlaw country artist Willie Nelson and the classic jazz singer Frank Sinatra. Their styles of music seem to contradict each other given the stringent nature of country music and the freeform nature of jazz. However, Willie Nelson has taken on covering an entire album of Sinatra’s for the second time. Nelson’s cover of Sinatra’s That’s Life hits the shelves today.
Before Willie Nelson got his hands on it, Frank Sinatra originally recorded That’s Life in 1966. Even before he recorded the album, the song “That’s Life,” which became a staple in Sinatra’s catalog, was written by Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon. Marion Montgomery also recorded it first in 1963.
Willie Nelson also was not the first artist to pay tribute to Sinatra’s famous song. Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Van Morrison, and David Lee Roth decided to give it a whirl as well, just to name a few. This particular recording was produced by Buddy Cannon and Matt Rollings at Hollywood’s Capitol Studios. It also had additional recordings done at Pedernales Studios in Austin Texas.
Willie Nelson Gives Jazz a Whirl
In 2018, Willie Nelson recorded Frank Sinatra’s My Way front to back. This venture into the jazz genre was not Willie’s first experiment in genre-bending, however. He has never been an artist to shy away from trying new things, whether it’s a style of music or a new substance. With that said, his ventures into jazz have almost always proved successful.
The Willie Nelson rendition of That’s Life is no different in that sense. While he does stick fairly close to the script in his arrangement, he adds his own flair. For instance, he keeps the traditional jazz drums, bass, and piano for all of these standards. However, he does choose to add some very tasteful jazz guitar lead licks atop the laid-back jazz tracks.
If it weren’t for Willie Nelson’s distinctive voice and some touches of harmonica here and there, the album could be straight jazz. As is standard in jazz guitar, the lines are free of distortion or overdrive. The tasteful horn sections give off a strong big band feel typical of Sinatra’s era.
All in all, Willie Nelson proved a much more dynamic musician with this rendition of Frank Sinatra’s That’s Life. Whether he sings jazz or any other genre, Willie can make his voice work. This impressive cover album displays Willie Nelson’s wide range of talent and ability. Even at 87 years old, Nelson won’t shy away from something new.