Willie Nelson, in all ways, is like Texas. His albums are especially like Texas weather. If you don’t like it, wait a minute, something new is coming soon. “Band of Brothers” is one in what appears to be a series of autumnal looking records packaged as somber reminders that Willie Nelson is really old and a piece of American history. Like the Johnny Cash American Recordings. Unlike those records, Willie shows no signs of loosening the reins. He’s still as full of piss and vinegar as ever, and that’s how we like him.
Exhibit A for Nelson, Willie, Hugh being irrepressible as ever is “Wives and Girlfriends” which manages to make a breezy, fun song out of one of Willie’s corny old man jokes. Exhibit B for Willie “Booger Red” Nelson still being a formidable songwriter is the karate combo of “The Wall” and “Guitar In The Corner.”
It’s weird saying this, but I feel like we won’t know if Willie is still writing classics like “Crazy” because he hasn’t stopped writing and because the sort of interpretive singing where a Patsy Cline or a Ray Price takes a song and makes it such a deep and lasting part of their persona is mostly gone. It’s the same way with Dylan and rock bands. Any chimp could sing a Thomas Rhett or Imagine Dragons song. We’re having a hard time gauging the quality of these all-time champs work because no one else is blowing it up like they used to. Not that a Dylan or a Willie needs the help.
More or less to that end, John Anderson stops by to join in on the “The Songwriters” and Jamey Johnson swaps verses on “From The Git Go.” If they insist on bringing back The Highwayman can we please have Josh Turner and Jamey Johnson filling in for Johnny and Waylon? Both serve admirably in their roles, but Johnson takes the prize for the steely menace in his delivery.
After 48-ish full on albums, what is there to say about a Willie Nelson record? Mickey Raphael’s harmonica gets more sympathetically, gorgeously creaky sounding next to Willie’s ever more patina’d voice and guitar. There’s a Jesus song, a cheating song, an outlaw song, a song about being on the road. You’ve heard a lot of these before, and if you’re listening, you want to hear more of them. If “Spirit” found Willie looking back at life almost 20 years ago and finding love, mystery, and faith the latest Willie records find him as an octogenarian looking back at life and finding it full of badass friends, family, and hustle. Like they say; It’s Willie’s world, friends, and we’re all just living in it.