Few songs are as indelibly associated with a single performer as Somewhere Over The Rainbow is with Judy Garland whose rendition in The Wizard Of Oz is unforgettable.
It’s really rare when someone approaches something like that and performs it in a way that’s utterly different and transcendent.
Willie Nelson does that. His version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow is plain and simple. His voice has always been nasally and imperfect, a tendency that got worse as he aged.
But he wraps those imperfections around his brilliant guitar work and together it’s as natural as sitting on the back porch, drinking and listening to a good friend spin art out of nothing.
You couldn’t make a much homier arrangement of this song than Nelson did. There are a lot of musicians on stage here but the focus is on the fiddle and his guitar work, which is vastly underrated. He’s as fine a guitarist as there is.
When you listen to his gorgeous renditions of songs like Someone to Watch Over Me or Blue Skies, or his duets with Ray Charles, or his radical cover of Louis Jordan’s Outskirts Of Town, or his recent classic Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die, featuring Snoop Dogg, you realize that this is a singular talent.
He’s casually deceived us into believing that he’s a country musician when what he really is is is an artistic genius who is capable of absorbing any influence and genially giving it back to us as something that sounds entirely casual.
Of course it’s not. What he does is high art that he presents with that conceit. Blood, sweat and tears built his towering catalogue of work. He has talked of a desperate early point in his career when he went outside and laid in the road and waited for someone to finish him off. It wasn’t easy for him and it took years for people to appreciate his artistry. He won’t be with us much longer so enjoy his sweet, homely interpretation of a classic American song.
When he’s discussed in the future, he’ll be mentioned with the absolute top tier of American musicians, composers and arrangers. He’s that good.
Ladies and gentlemen, the incomparable Willie Nelson.