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It’s starting to become a cliché—a young turk produces a comeback album for an elder statesman, reestablishing the latter’s relevance and creative powers. It worked for Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash, then again for Jack White and Loretta Lynn. So it’s no surprise that alt-country wunderkind Ryan Adams has helped Willie create his freshest, most interesting album in years. Ryan and his limber backing band, The Cardinals, lend Songbird a relaxed, ragged air that suits the laid-back legend just fine, and the song choices are always smart and occasionally revelatory.

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