Willie Nelson: Artist's Choice

Has a friend ever given you a tape or CD of favorite songs - tunes with special meaning, or that he or she just thought you would enjoy?

If your friend was Willie Nelson, this is the CD he'd give you. Artist's Choice includes 16 tracks that Willie explains were influential on his own writing and singing - or that he just plain likes.

A few picks are obvious, like Hank Williams, The Louvin Brothers and Bob Wills. Casual fans who've heard Willie deliver the occasional standard won't bat an eye at the inclusion of Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" or "Embraceable You" by Frank Sinatra, who he cites in the liner notes as his favorite singer.

But some of the tracks here will surprise anyone who isn't aware of Willie's more offbeat tastes. Reggae singer Jimmy Cliff, for example, delivers the 1972 plea for freedom "The Harder They Come," and Miles Davis' 1957 reading of "Bye Bye Blackbird" closes out the CD. More recent picks from Alison Krauss and Shelby Lynne attest to Willie's continuing engagement in the music world.

The Artist's Choice series, launched by Starbucks, has featured similar mix CDs from Johnny Cash and Lucinda Williams, along with a host of rock, jazz and classical stars - but Willie's entry stands as one of the most thoughtful, insightful and enjoyable.

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