TL:DR: THIS ALBUM SMELLS LIKE WEED, BURNT WOOD, AND DUST.
Willie Nelson, the long running man with the braids is on the road, yet again. It’s pretty crazy to think about the idea that this man is still kicking and still making his iconic brand of country music, all the while many of his contemporaries are retired or, unfortunately, dead. And all of these ideas are explored within this album’s 44 minute parameters that will be some of the best country music released this year.
Country music is probably the closest genre to have the statement:”it was better in the early days” feel objectively correct. For whatever reason, some time around the 90s, country music fell into a massive hole, filled with generic arena ballads and awkward honky tonk party songs that spread like an infection that country music is just starting to cure itself of. It seemed like the only artists with worthwhile releases were older artists who had already made their name in the 70s and 80s. And Willie Nelson was one of the artists that helped give some flavor to the diluted pool of the gooey Keith Urban and Toby Keith rehashes that consumed a volume of the country music scene.
This is his 61st studio album which is absolutely mind boggling in my eyes. And through it all he has been playing his trademarked and simple brand of country music. Sometimes he flirts with reggae, sometimes he flirts with jazz, never for very long though and honestly I think that’s another reason country music is generally not taken seriously. There’s a blatant formula to a lot of country music that is undeniable. Whether it be motif-ridden sing-song ballads or a fucking mandolin finding it’s way into a mix for no reason; and I think this is because country music is a style so deeply ingrained in it’s own culture that straying away from it’s own formula is nearly a death sentence. That’s what you need to understand, this is a tried and true country album like Willie has ever written.
From the first song, Little House on the Hill, you’re getting the running instrumental and Willie’s nasally vocals and some tight finger picked guitar playing. One thing that is noticed immediately is that Willie’s voice sounds very old and weak. It doesn’t take very much from the album though because Willie is very subtle and understated with his delivery throughout anyway but his weak voice becomes incredibly apparent on the title track which features the late Leon Russel, Jamey Johnson and Tony Joe White, all make a much more considerable vocal attribution that Willie himself.
Despite the weary vocals, the album is very consistent throughout, and I would say that there isn’t much of a low-point throughout. If I had to pick one it’s Delete and Fast-forward which is one of the more bare-bones and bland in terms of the rhythm and melody but it’s not exactly skippable or anything.
The album even ends a good note in a song written by Gary Nicholson and dedicated to the late and great Merle Haggard which acts as a nice and triumphant goodbye to the audience and to Merle.
If there was any negative, it would be just that this album doesn’t do anything new in them Country genre. It just does it better than most. Some songs offer a little variety, like A Woman’s Love which has a slightly flamenco vibe to it and for some reason I even get a bit of a Lee Hazelwood vibe from it too but I’m not sure why. And the title track is a nocturnal and dusty cut that sounds like a motorcycle driving down an empty highway.
In short, if you like Willie, you will like this album. If you like old school country, you will like this album. And hell, even if you like some folk music you’ll probably like it too.
7/10-Pretty good bruh