Collaboration is the most intimate and important step for artists outside of familiar genres. Where the late Bobbie Nelson stormed through on piano, her efforts as a lead performer, and as an artist, were not quite at the forefront. Not because the familiar name Willie Nelson was a brighter spark or even a better musician, but because the turns in the spotlight are interesting for some but not for others. Bobbie Nelson’s collaboration with Amanda Shires is an interesting one. Not because it pairs a legendary name with an alt-country creative but because the slight lines of familiarity between the pair blossom into something unexpected. It is the equivalent of the Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett albums. Always On My Mind prepares listeners for a similar legend meets talent of the now experience.
For those who mark Always On My Mind as their first experience with Nelson on piano, what a treat it is. From the opening bars which cut through and keep a listener guessing as to what tone it will take to the explosive Shires inclusion as they push through with a classic ballad. Pet Shop Boys and Willie Nelson may too have held their own with this song but it is fascinating to hear it with a string quartet, a focus on the piano and the tenderness of Shires’ voice. Her near-isolated vocal work is nothing shy of incredible. Powerful in all the right places and gaps left between elongated notes which give Nelson a chance to showcase her piano talents. It is a perfect balance, a fine storm of the two talents coming together and finding meaning in a legendary track.
Elvis Presley may have marked the first commercially successful rendition of Always On My Mind but it was not the best. Decades come and go but what remains at the core is a satisfyingly broad experience for those who adapt this Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher and Mark James track. Electronica mixes from Pet Shop Boys and the country touches of Always On My Mind will always be the frontrunners, and although Shires and Nelson do not join those lauded ranks, they piece together a supreme and gifted rendition of a ballad still hanging around for decades. Giving life to its instrumentals and plenty of space for those ballad-like transitions, it is the elongation which, while impressive, takes Always On My Mind to a place beyond personable.
Where the track does not need to be is held in the lofty highs and heavy heights found in instrumentals being built and built. There is a simplicity and an earnest core lost when applying detail after detail. Although Shires and Nelson make for a solid pairing here and a definitively enjoyable cover of the classic, their reliance on louder and larger compositions is a bit of a shame. Shires has the voice to carry it when rounded off correctly, while Nelson dominates well and consistently so with even piano work which lingers long after the song comes to a close. Their collaboration is an interesting one, more to see how they build on one another rather than where Always On My Mind can be taken. It is where this track takes the pair which is of importance.