This impressive 30-song, two-CD collection only scrapes the surface of an influential career that spans some 40 years. Nevertheless, THE VERY BEST OF WILLIE NELSON works beautifully on a couple of levels. For starters, it reminds us, as if we need to be reminded, of what a stellar song interpreter Nelson has always been -- a vocalist whose languorous approach belies an acute sense of what makes a song's narrative tick, and who explores those nuances as subtly and rhythmically as a jazz singer. Second, although most of the songs here were written by others, Nelson originals such as "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" (a live cut) compare favorably to some of the great pop standards in his repertoire. The cuts here date from 1974's "After the Fire Is Gone" (a scintillating duet with Tracy Nelson
) to 1989's "Nothing I Can Do About It Now." Surprises? None, really. But there's nary a dull moment either. Hey -- it's Willie!