Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger has been stuck in my car's tape player since about 2003, so it has become a part of me. I can sing it, still out of tune, from front to back. More recently, I've come to love Stardust, in many ways Stranger's exact opposite.
On the one hand, you have a rough-and-tumble set of originals based around a man named The Preacher, who kills his cheating wife and then takes to the road. Songs are short snips of easy genius that sound as if written beside a campfire. When he brought it the label, executives though it was a demo.
With Stardust, released three years later in 1978, you get a polished set of distinct covers drawn from the most recognizable sections of the American songwriting canon. "Blue Skies" joins other classics like "Unchained Melody," "Georgia on My Mind" and "What a Wonderful World." Booker T. Jones has a firm, steady studio hand.
What is clear on Stardust is Willie's versatile genius, the ability to make even the most distant song his own. Lonely this cold, winter week? Go buy this record.