- 15 Sep 23
The Indefatigable Willie
This is such a simple yet brilliant idea, it’s surprising the canny Mr Nelson hasn’t thought of it before. Take some of his best songs – and we’re talking about one the greatest song writers, in any genre, who has ever put pen to stave – and perform them with a crack band of bluegrass musicians. The results are an album that’s as near to a perfect record as makes no odds.
The stall is laid out with opener ‘No Love Around’ which first turned up on 1974’s Phases And Stages. Aubrey Haynie’s fiddle soars while Barry Bales upright bass swings and Ron Block’s banjo and Rob Ickes’ dobro drive the whole thing along. Buddy Cannon’s production makes it sound like this heavenly band are playing in your living room and Willie Nelson’s voice – at ninety, and you were complaining getting out of the bed this morning – is as note perfect as ever, with his usual unique and unmistakable phrasing.
Everything here hits the target from the waltzing sway of ‘Somebody Pick Up The Pieces’ and the hoedown of ‘A Good Hearted Woman’ to the hungover but happy ‘Bloody Mary Morning’ - the breakfast of champions - and 'Yesterday's Wine' - the supper of champions. The celebratory ‘On The Road Again’ - the anthem of a man still out there, playing somewhere and making Mick Jagger look like a small child - should be piped into hospitals to make people feel better and ‘Still Is Still Moving To Me’ sounds as good in this setting as it did when Nelson and Toots Hibbert reggaed it up back in 2004. If you write songs this marvellous, you can pull and push at them any way you please.
Listen to the sport that Willie and the boys are having as they skip through 'Man With The Blues'. You can almost hear them grinning at each other as they enjoy the casual virtuosity that you too can be privy to for a one-time nominal fee. If this album doesn't make you smile and feel happier about life in general then perhaps music just isn't your thing. Why don't you take up macramé instead?
There are various estimates about how many albums Nelson has actually made, and the man himself recently admitted even he can’t name them all, but his late period purple patch which began around 2017’s God’s Problem Child is astonishing and continues unabated here. A giant of music, having a good time, while he’s still able. Ignore the godawful cover art, which looks like it was concocted after a session involving grass of a slightly different hue and might just freak you out depending on the state you're in, and buy it.