One of the greatest songwriters to ever live, and a certified icon of Country Music, Willie Nelson is certainly a man in need of no introduction. His career began with 1962’s And Then I Wrote, and Nelson would go on to release 67 studio albums, and find himself featured in some capacity on a total of 161 albums (yes, you read those numbers correctly.) In short, the man has few moments of his life doing anything aside from making music through his nearly 60 year career.
Of course, this discography is populated by a plethora of hit songs. “Crazy,” “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “Always on My Mind,” and “On the Road Again,” comprise just a tiny collection of the man’s hits over the year, leaving him in a league of his own, with few contemporaries, save maybe Cash, Dylan, or McCartney. He’s often credited as the father of Outlaw Country, a title which he bares with much pride, and which he addresses on the opening, title track.
Calling himself “the last man standing,” before namedropping his many friends in the outlaw movement whom he has managed to outlive. Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings are mentioned by name in this song, which is notable as something of a reference to Willies many collaborations with both men. Even in songs with somewhat weighty topics, however, Nelson maintains levity with his infamous wit and writing skill.
Songs like “Bad Breath” and “Heaven is Closed” make light of Willie’s old age and the passing of his friends as well, with the latter track containing lyrics like “Heaven’s closed and Hell’s overcrowded, so I think I’ll just stay where I am.”
Additionally, tracks like “Don’t Tell Noah” and “Ready to Roar” continue the trend of quotable, comedic lyrics, focusing on Willie being crazy for his entire life and his desire to have a good time on a Friday night, respectively.
He even touches, briefly, on today’s political climate with “Me & You,” though he remains mostly lighthearted, without taking much of a strong side. In the end, the track may be my least favorite on the album, as Willie fails to say much, and though he creates yet another fun instrumental, this is the only set of lyrics which feel like a hindrance to the song they are in.
The tone isn’t solely jovial, however. “I’ll Try To Do Better Next Time,” and my favorite song on the record, “Something You Get Through,” take more somber, classic country tones and focus on themes of regret and loss. The latter, especially, sees a long string of moving lyrics which deal quite wisely with the loss of love.
Beyond the wide range of topics and lyrical muscles with Nelson flexes on nearly every track, the album is highlighted by excellent instrumentation, simple production, and a short runtime of just over half an hour, which will leave nearly everyone begging for more. The band is, of course, lead by Willie himself and his iconic, acoustic guitar. Behind him, though, is his long time harmonica player, Mickey Raphael giving yet another commanding performance in a discography which sees him credited on nearly 300 albums. The drum and bass work, while relatively uneventful, round out an excellent outing by Nelson’s band, and provide yet another piece of the puzzle when it comes to the great album.
The highlight is, of course, Willie’s voice. While age may have robbed him of some smoothness and power, it has not stolen away his infamous tone and delivery. Nelson is cool, sharp, and energetic throughout, providing avid fans and passing enjoyers alike, yet another chance to marvel at one of most unique voices in history.
Yet another great project from one of the all-time greats is in the books, and I find myself quite pleased. To say “he’s still got it,” may imply a bit more surprise than is actually present. Instead let me say, He’s always had it, and he always will.
HEAR THE ALBUM: https://open.spotify.com/album/59kwBSCOkQiV6L6tUxkNjU