Street Sounds: At 81, Willie Nelson's still going strong
At 81 years old and 50-plus albums, Willie Nelson is a clear eyed reporter of world weary choices, moody regret and aw shucks bad assery.
On Band of Brothers, his first mainly original album in over a decade, Nelson reasserts his songwriting mastery in an album replete with his end-of-the-night chord patterns and western swing/country pop hybrid songs.
Nelson’s vigorous work ethic has kept his tremulous voice in solid form (as a vocal stylist, his shaky voice is singular.) Producer Buddy Cannon’s highlighting of Nelson’s voice and rickety, elegant guitar work dovetail sweetly into the relaxed songs of Band of Brothers – an unhurried collection of classic Nelson themes of camaraderie (Guitar in the Corner), the road (Band of Brothers) and wayward love (Wives and Girlfriends).
This album shines light on Nelson’s songs which, along with his voice, are ageless because they’ve always sounded old.
Both are strong and confident, shaded by darkness and humour: He’s no serious prophet but he’s a wry observer of basic situations who turns simple sentiments into roadside wisdom.
Nelson has always had an ear for the “whatever happens,” the type of view as heard on Used to Hear:
“I wish I wasn’t used to her back then, I could have picked a good girl who did not crave other men/ I wish I wasn’t used to her back then.”
Band of Brothers is focused on Nelson’s ensemble, playing western swing songs and easy excursions into bluesy sounds (The Git Go, Hard to Be an Outlaw).
His workhorse musical output has kept his vocal/guitar and songwriting skills vital and pleasantly weathered. This album hones in on all three of his talents with emphasis on the latter. He gives an insight to his longevity and drive on The Songwriters: “We write bridges, we cross ‘em and burn ‘em/Teach lessons but don’t bother to learn ‘em.”
– Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews new releases for The Morning Star every Friday.