Thursday, June 19, 2014


Every once in a while, Willie Nelson tries really hard.  Not that he's putting out junk; the guy can whip out a fantastic solo or turn in a passionate vocal at any time.  But he also puts out a constant string of albums, and rarely commits to a full batch of new material.  You're more likely to get one new one, and a bunch of covers.  This time, you can tell he wanted to prove something, as at 81, he has a full 9 new tunes out of the 14 here.  Also, it's not a concept set, such as last year's To All The Girls..., which teamed him up with famous females for duets.  This is simply new material with a few outside writers, the aim being quality.

Like Daniel Lanois did for Willie back in 1998, it seems a producer lit the spark here.  Buddy Cannon is the co-writer on all of the new tracks, mostly for his job of taking Willie's guitar and vocal demos and fleshing out the arrangements and polishing the final product.  Unlike Lanois, he doesn't leave his stamp on Willie's sound though.  This is vintage Nelson, clean and unchanged from his 70's sound, Trigger the acoustic at the centre, Willie's warm voice up front, Mickey Raphael's harmonica all through it.

There are a couple of major songs here, including The Wall, a ballad about burning out from pressure and overwork:  "I went off like a roman candle, burning everyone I knew, I hit the wall."  The title cut might be about his long-serving band:  "We're a band of brothers and sisters and whatever/On a mission to break all the rules/And I know you love me because I love you too."  The covers are well-chosen too, including a gem from his old running buddy Billy Joe Shaver, who sums up Nashville in Hard To Be An Outlaw, which probably sums up Nelson's thoughts too:  "The record people nowadays keep spinning round and round/Songs about the backroads that they never have been down/ They go and call it country, but that ain't the way it sounds/ It's enough to make a renegade want to terrorize the town/ It's hard to be an outlaw who ain't wanted anymore."  Nova Scotia's Gordie Sampson gets a credit here as well, with a number called The Songwriters.  A new Nelson album is always nice, but I'd probably give back two or three of them if he'd make more like this every couple of years.

1 comment:

  1. Good to see your passion for original songwriting and musicmaking that's not overproduced, Bob. ... Steve Heckbert