Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Willie Nelson "Band of Brothers" Album Review

     Sometimes, an entertainer grows bigger than a genre, bigger than a musical styling, and simply becomes a vital piece of American culture that is institutionalized into our hearts.  Willie Nelson is one of those entertainers.  Willie has been around for what seems like forever, writing hits for Patsy Cline, Faron Young, and Ray Price, changing country music history forever in the '70's with Waylon Jennings, and serving as an ambassador for traditional country music to a new generation over the last few decades.  Rather than rest on his historical laurels, Willie has been hitting the pen and paper, the studio, and the road.  The result is a new headlining tour and a new full length album full of new, original Willie Nelson songs that proves the man not only still has it, he is still light-years ahead of his contemporaries in the country music world.

     Right off the bat, Band of Brothers hits hard.  "Bring It On" is a fun honky-tonker that shows that Willie still has the energy of his youth and can hold up a tough fighting song and still make you believe every word.  He may be 81 years young, but he just became a black-belt and can still kick your ass.  "Guitar In The Corner" is classic Willie.  It tells a heartbroken story that could have been on any of his albums the past 50 years.  It just has that mid-tempo, laid back sound with great lyrics that Willie is a master of.  "The Wall" is one of the best songs on the album and one of the best of Willie's career.  Willie takes a deep and long look back on his life with regret, understanding, and reverence.  He is a man who has seen it all, done it all, and learned from it.  It says a lot to the character of Willie Nelson that he is still so humble after all the great success he has enjoyed.  He still thinks he could have done better.  He carries that attitude into "Whenever You Come Around", a cover of the Vince Gill hit.  He croons it as only Willie could.  It is slowed down and Willie sings off-tempo and throws notes around.  Vince Gill sang a technically perfect version of the song.  Willie sang a perfect Willie version of the song.  "Send Me A Picture" is a tender ballad that Willie tackles easily with his trademark vocal work and beautiful picking from his legendary guitar, Trigger.  "I Thought I Left You" is another ballad that is a highlight of the album.

      Willie is still as feisty as ever.  "Used To Her" is a snappy love-gone-wrong song with funny jabs and a slew of resentment.  "Band of Brothers" is about his band of "brothers and sister and whatevers on a mission to break all the rules".  Willie makes it clear that he calls the shots and he can't be tied down.  "I've Got A Lot of Traveling To Do" is the modern day version of "On The Road Again".  Willie isn't slowing down, or holding back.  While "On The Road Again" had a campy, fun mood, "I've Got A Lot of Traveling Left To Do" has much more of an "in-your-face" attitude and spite towards a former lover.  "Wives and Girlfriends" is a silly, old-school song with goofy lyrics that can't help but make you smile. Willie really shines on "Hard To Be An Outlaw".  The song was written by the legendary Billy Joe Shaver.  It criticizes the country-pop fiasco on the radio with anger and scorn rarely heard from the gentle hippie of country music.  Willie doesn't get angry.  When Willie gets mad enough to get fired up, you double-damn better listen, because he has something important to say.  If only the barrage of young stars who love to name drop the legends would actually heed their advice.

     Willie's collaborations and covers are solid as well.  "The Git Go" is a great duet with Jamey Johnson.  Willie had a special kinship with the late Waylon Jennings that can never be replaced or replicated.  Their bond went far deeper than the music.  However, musically speaking alone, the coolest thing about their songs was the way Waylon would growl and sing hard and low while Willie was always breezy and hitting the high notes.  Jamey Johnson does a darn good job of recreating that sound with Willie in this song.  All that aside, just hearing some new Jamey Johnson material is fantastic.  "The Songwriters" is a fun cover of the song written by Gordie Sampson and Whispering Bill Anderson.  The song is playful rendition of the storied and fabled life of a songwriter.  Willie may be a great singer and entertainer, but he is a songwriter at heart.  He co-wrote all but 3 of the tracks on the album.  "The Songwriters" is a fitting tip of the hat to writers by one of the best writers of all time.

      Many times, when a legend releases an album at this point in his career, it's weaker material, either a desperate attempt to cash in on current trends, or an equally disappointing attempt to simply redo an old formula and hope for new results.  They often are successful based on the status of the artist rather than the merit of the material.  Band of Brothers is not that album.  Willie Nelson has written or covered some of the best work of his career.  This is not a man resting on his accolades, this is a troubadour who can't slow down, and can't hold back his creative spirit.  Willie Nelson is country music royalty, a songwriter for the ages, and an American treasure.  And, best of all, he isn't done.  Band of Brothers is one of the best releases of the year and a must have for any fan of real country music.

Standout Tracks: "The Wall", "Hard To Be An Outlaw" "I've Got A Lot Of Traveling To Do", "Guitar In The Corner", "The Songwriters" "Band of Brothers"

"The Wall"

"Band of Brothers"

"The Git Go (with Jamey Johnson)"

1 comment:

  1. It's just a coincidence I was playing this album while driving to workplace this morning.
    Talking about Willie Nelson it's really hard - somehow prohibited - to rate his works, this is better than that, this is worse or whatever.
    Take a look at the discography and then take a deep breathe. It's not a life, it's 2 or 3 generations. Amazing.

    To me, this album paints the most classical image I have of great Willie Nelson. Relaxing, hyronic, humorous, deep.
    Not too far away from the sound of the early years of his career (someone say those tunes sound funny now...), not too close to some blues/jazz/funky/rock/whatever he tried along the way.
    And there's a plus: Jamey Johnson , that is one of my favorite singers right now.