Artist: Phosphorescent Track: "Reasons to Quit" Album: To Willie Listen

Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger, perhaps the greatest country album ever recorded, has been stuck in my Corolla's tape player since 2004. It's as much a part of that car as the odometer, as familiar and worn as the seat belts. Sometime around the summer of 2005 I tried unsuccessfully to jimmy the cassette from the deck; after that I sat back and started to listen to the record that defined the wandering singer and paved the way for alt-country.

I'm glad I did.

Nelson and his work have become a part of my life, and I've studied his beautiful, heart-wrenching stories on countless drives. The Preacher -- a heartbroken, red-headed stranger from Blue Rock, Montana -- and I have become friends.

Matthew Houck, who fronts Phosphorescent with a rotating group of friends, has a similar affection for the singing outlaw. To Willie is a collection of Nelson covers, and it includes a bang-up version of "Reasons to Quit," which Nelson famously recorded with Merle Haggard.

Throughout this touching, well-played album, Houck shows deep knowledge of Nelson's catalog and seems to understand exactly what the man was feeling when he penned these 11 tracks. It treads a fine line between remaining faithful and remaining fresh -- a rare feat among tribute albums. It's a must for anyone who loves Nelson and the bands (The Jayhawks, Wilco, et al.) he influenced.

Phosphorescent will play at The Summit, 2210 Summit St., on Tuesday, March 3.