If you’ve wondered what Willie Nelson might sound like in an old-school jazz club, then here you go: Pour a martini, and mull how far this album is from his “Outlaw Willie” image. The first release in a new archival series, “December Day” teams Nelson with his sister and bandmate, pianist Bobbie Nelson, for a ballad-heavy set featuring new versions of Nelson staples and a trip through the Great American Songbook. Bobbie tends to stay in the background and isn’t helped by the mix; she’s most animated on standards like Irving Berlin’s “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and Al Jolson’s “The Anniversary Song.” Willie lays on the charm, but also a wistful tristesse, in spare reworkings of his own “Permanently Lonely” and “Sad Songs and Waltzes.” An unfortunate monotony sets in with the slow tempos, but Nelson’s acoustic guitar provides some life on Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages.” This appears to be a special album for Willie; whether it will be so for his fans is open to debate. (Out Tuesday)
Essential “What’ll I Do”
Steve Morse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.