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Massive Box Celebrates Willie Nelson's 75th


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Willie Nelson

Jonathan Cohen, N.Y.

To celebrate Willie Nelson's 75th birthday on April 30, Legacy Recordings will roll out a series of special projects. Billboard.com can exclusively reveal that the first is the April 1 release "One Hell of a Ride," a four-disc, 100-song boxed set.

The collection bundles together music from Nelson's stints with numerous record labels, beginning with tracks recorded in late 1954/early 1955 for KBOP radio in Pleasanton, Texas.

While the track list is still coming together, look for early 1960s takes on "Night Life," "Funny How Time Slips Away" and "Crazy" plus iconic covers like Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'," Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" and Fred Rose's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain."

Liner notes were penned by Joe Nick Patoski, whose Nelson biography, "An Epic Life," will hit bookstores this spring via Little, Brown.

Meanwhile, on April 29, Legacy will issue "#1s," a single-disc compilation of Nelson's chart-topping pop and country hits.

As previously reported, Nelson's new studio album, "Moment of Forever," is due Jan. 29 via Lost Highway. The set was co-produced by Kenny Chesney and Buddy Cannon.

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I really need to listen to good 'ol Willie more often. I've only heard Redheaded Stranger album-wise and love it.

Along with Waylon and David Allan Coe, he was among the very first "Outlaw" singers I ever got into but the Willie Nelson portion of my collection (both vinyl and CD) could always use a little expanding.

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Nelson Gets Assists From Chesney, Cannon On New Album

Ken Tucker, Nashville

When superstar Kenny Chesney and veteran producer Buddy Cannon were approached about producing the iconic Willie Nelson, Chesney says he had two goals in mind.

"I wanted to keep the element of Willie where he can sink his teeth into a great country song, but I also wanted to push him," he says. Nelson's stellar new album, "Moment of Forever," due Jan. 29 on Lost Highway, proves his goals were met.

The invitation to work with Nelson, 74, came after he guested on Chesney's version of "That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day)," a song Nelson recorded in 1979 with Leon Russell. The rough mix caught the attention of Nelson's manager, Mark Rothbaum, who asked if Chesney and Cannon would be interested in doing a full-blown project. "I wish I could say that I jumped at the chance," Chesney says, "but it came at a time when I was really tired from the end of my tour and I wanted to be sure that I had the mental energy that it'd take to have that guy's music in your hands.

"And just when I was needing it the most, God gave me Willie Nelson," he continues. "You never know where inspiration is going to come from."

Chesney admits he was a bit uneasy on the first day in the studio. "I hadn't been that nervous in awhile, especially making a record," he says. "I had my vision of what I wanted to do with Willie, but I didn't know if that was Willie's vision."

The feeling dissipated when Chesney walked into the studio. "Willie gave me a big hug," Chesney says. "Next thing you know, I was hanging out with my buddy."

The album includes a cover of Dave Matthews' haunting "Gravedigger," a song suggested by Chesney. "I just felt that that song could really suit Willie very well if we got it cut the right way," he says.

Nelson contributed three cuts: "Over You Again," which he wrote with sons Micah and Lukas, and two that he wrote solo, including the hilarious "You Don't Think I'm Funny Anymore" ("Did you hear the one about the dirty whore/Oh, I forgot . . . you don't think I'm funny anymore"). Chesney and Cannon also delivered songs for the project. The Kris Kristofferson and Danny Tims-penned title cut is classic Nelson.

Randy Newman's "Louisiana," originally written about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, finds new life as a commentary on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "We took the lyric and made it apply to today," Chesney says.

"The Bob Song," a funny and at times psychedelic testament to independence written by Big Kenny Alphin of Big & Rich, fits Nelson to a "t." "The carefree spirit of that song is kind of the way Willie is," Chesney says. A duet with Chesney, "Worry B Gone," was written by Guy Clark, Gary Nicholson and Lee Roy Parnell.

While nothing's set in stone, the three men may work together again. "I enjoyed doing it, and Kenny and Buddy both are great in the studio," Nelson says.

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