I’m not sure at what point it becomes ridiculous for me to sit here and attempt to judge the quality of Willie Nelson’s music and expect anyone to take me seriously. obviously, Willie has proven his output will stand the test of time, and as Josh, formerly of Country Perspective, said on Twitter, he’s putting out better music at eighty-three than most artists will in their entire careers. Having said that, I don’t think it’s an album that’s going to change your opinion of Willie Nelson; if you enjoyed his music, you’ll like this record too, but if you aren’t really a fan, I wouldn’t say this album is going to be anything earth-shattering that will change your mind. Personally, I’ve always been on the side that enjoys a good amount of Nelson’s music, and this album was another pleasant, if not mind-blowing. listen.
Mortality is a theme running heavily through this record, as other outlets have pointed out. Sometimes it’s metaphorically, such as in the opener, “Little House on the Hill,” where Willie Nelson seems to be referring to heaven. Sometimes it’s humorous, like in “Still Not Dead,” where Willie makes fun of the frequent death hoaxes surrounding him and says, “I woke up still not dead again today” despite what the Internet said. Sometimes the references are more introspective, such as in the song “True love,” where Nelson states that when it’s all over, he’ll still believe true love was a friend. Regardless, the end of life definitely overshadows this record; it’s both somber and peaceful, but I think that your mileage on this album will directly be affected by your ability to deal with these references.
There are frequent mentions of old age too, quite obviously in “old Timer” and more subtly in “It Gets Easier,” as Willie expresses that it gets easier to back out on your commitments as you get older. These types of songs can make the album less relatable at times, and that’s okay–just as Maddie & Tae’s youthful songs about growing up will speak more to their generation, these songs will no doubt speak more to Willie Nelson’s generation and those reflecting on the next stage of life.
I noted this record is peaceful, and that’s the perfect word to describe it sonically. It’s somewhere between the clean production of Sam Outlaw’s latest record and Jason Eady’s, with lots of quiet, introspective moments. And much like Outlaw’s, the overall mood this album puts you in as you listen says more about it than explaining the individual tracks. The aforementioned “True Love” is one of the best to capture this mood, along with “A Woman’s Love’ and the title track, which features Tony Joe White, Leon Russell, and Jamey Johnson. (Jamey Johnson continues his incredible run of lending his voice to amazing songs, by the way, and I’m beginning to think he’ll never release new music, just continue to appear in other people’s songs like this for the rest of eternity.) Another really nice moment, and one of the few that touches neither on old age nor death, is “Lady Luck,”–think of this as the more thoughtful, intuitive version of “Ace in the Hole” or a more laidback version of “The Gambler.” This is my personal favorite but that’s probably just because it’s more relatable to me than much of the album–or it could be because I have a partiality to poker. Another standout track is the closer, his tribute to Merle Haggard, “He Won’t Ever be Gone.” We’ve had a lot of Merle tributes, but this one is from a friend, and so this one just means much more.
If I have anything to say against this album, it’s just similar to Sam Outlaw’s in that parts of this can run together, and no song really blew me away on its own. IN the context of the album, many of these songs are great, but as I mentioned, part of this has to do with the overall mood and frame of mind created by this record. as I say, your mileage, I believe, will depend on your take on the old age and death references, but that’s not a criticism at all, just a personal preference. I want to make that especially clear since many of the best songs here deal with the end of life, and Willie Nelson has done a great job reflecting on that and capturing his state of mind through his songwriting.
So, overall, yeah, Willie Nelson has given us another good album and is still churning out quality country music at eighty-three–well, eighty-four after last Saturday. It’s a nice, pleasant listen, and while I wouldn’t say it’s anything groundbreaking, I would say it’s certainly worth your time. Hopefully I’ll still be struggling to find words for Willie Nelson albums well into the future.