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Willie Nelson


Review by Gary Hill

I’ve always had a deep respect for Willie Nelson’s rugged individuality and refusal to compromise his beliefs. Isn’t that what being an American is supposed to be about? Well, I’d never really given Nelson’s music much of a chance. After hearing this disc, I have to say that that’s a shame. There is a major sense of diversity on this disc with rock songs paired with country and all pulled off extremely well. This may well be one of the best dozen or so discs of the year. Here’s to Willie Nelson – long may he ride.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 6 at

Track by Track Review
Rainy Day Blues
Willie Nelson lays down and authentic old school blues here, and it’s quite a cool little cut. The cut includes some killer instrumental work down to a blues harp solo and Nelson’s vocals are a great fit to this type of track. It’s also a great way to lead off the CD. If I had a complaint about this one it would be that it drags on a bit too long. A 12 bar blues at over 5 minutes in length can wear a little thin. Still, that's a minor issue on a great tune.
Playing a song written by Christine McVie (of Fleetwood Mac) this has a nice rock ballad approach. It’s a pretty one and Nelson and company put in a strong performance. The guitar soloing on this is particularly tasty. While this is a bit too light to lead off the album with, it’s a bit stronger than the track that preceded it. I guess that makes it a great choice for the second slot.
Blue Hotel
This one has a great bluesy gospel sort of approach and is one of the stronger cuts on show here.
Back To Earth
This one doesn’t do a lot for me at first with its stripped down approach. As it turns to the more developed country ballad segment with a trademark Willie Nelson sound, however, it works a lot better. That second motif is strong enough to qualify this as a highlight.
Stella Blue
Here Nelson and company put in a six and a half minute take on the Grateful Dead track. While this one moves really slowly, almost plodding along, I like it a lot. The distorted guitar adds an almost psychedelic approach and Nelson’s voice meshes extremely well with this piece of music. This one is my favorite track on show on the CD. I have to say, though, that it’s a shame Jerry Garcia isn’t with us anymore. With him on board this one would be even stronger.
This is a slow balladic number. It’s pretty good, but not as potent as some of the other material here. I’d call this more old school rock rather than country or blues, but some of the guitar soloing might bring it into the country arena.
$1000 Wedding
A Gram Parsons penned tune, this is another solid rock song. It really has a late ’60’s early ’70’s rocking texture. The only thing I’d change about this cut is to remove the female backing vocals. They just seem a bit clichéd. Even that can't distract from the quality of the cut, though.
We Don't Run
Now, this one finds Nelson and the band in a fast paced rockabilly jam that’s a lot of fun. This is another highlight of a disc that has no shortage of them.
Yours Love
Here we get an old school country ballad as only Willie Nelson can deliver it. I have to say that this is a great song and a nice touch, especially where it’s placed on the CD. They turn it to a bit of noisy rock guitar chaos right near the end.
Sad Songs and Waltzes
This is another country ballad song, which is trademark Nelson. It’s another strong cut. It turns a bit more energized as it carries on, but not much change is necessary when a song is this good.
Amazing Grace
I know a lot of people love this song, and what I’m about to say will seem sacrilege, but frankly, I have always hated this – every version I’ve ever heard. It literally strikes me like fingernails on a chalkboard. Even when Yes (and I am a Yes fanatic) bassist Chris Squire used it as part of his bass solo I couldn’t stand it. Don’t ask me why, but I have a major aversion to this piece of music in all its incarnations. Now that said, I actually like this version – the melody here is closer to “The House of the Rising Son” and it actually works. Kudos go out to Nelson and The Cardinals for creating a rendition of this song (the only one) to which I can actually listen. The tremolo guitar solo is especially strong as is the Hammond organ outing.
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