Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

New Willie Nelson album, “First Rose of Spring”

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020
by: Liz Thomson

Listening to Willie Nelson’s latest album is like pulling on a pair of beloved beat-up cowboy boots. The declarative vocal over simple guitar, a touch of Hammond, a plaintive harmonica and then one of those characteristic country music key changes… and of course a distinctive Nelson guitar solo on his battered old nylon-stringed Martin. The song which gives the album its title is the opener and immediately you’re swept away.

First Rose of Spring is Nelson’s seventieth solo studio album (there’s a score of others) and it was originally scheduled for release in April as he turned 87. Breathing problems forced him to cancel some tour dates last year and as a result he’s given up smoking. The album finds him very much on song.

His is a unique voice, instantly recognisable – the sonic equivalent of a face on Mount Rushmore. It’s remarkably secure for a man of his years, even on the melismata, and his clear diction means he’s always the perfect storyteller, whether singing his own classic songs or those of others. Rose features two new numbers co-written with producer Buddy Cannon, another of country music’s greats: “Blue Star” and “Love Just Laughed.”

Nelson is ever the outlaw, and two songs play to that image: “I’m the Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised”, and “I’ll Break Out Again Tonight”, in which a man “in stripes” dreams of life on the outside in a classic slice of two-chord country.

As for “Just Bummin’ Around”, you half expect to hear Patsy Cline’s voice in this wonderfully retro soft-shoe shuffle. There’s a beguiling honky-tonk account of Toby Keith’s “Don’t Let the Old Man In”, with its homespun advice (“Try to love on your wife/ And stay close to your friends/ Toast each sundown with wine”) which Nelson has certainly heeded. Yet from the poignant title track on, there’s an inevitable sense of mortality about the album, emphasized by its closing track, a cover of the old Charles Aznavour & Herbert Kretzmer number.

But “Yesterday When I Was Young” is sung with defiance as well as resignation and the arrangement is gorgeous, Nelson’s guitar picking preceding the entry of lush strings, harmonica, and pedal steel.  

Nelson won’t “go gentle” anywhere, and hopefully not for a long time. In the last few long weeks, many of us have come a bit “unravelled”, as he sings in “Our Song”, and this is an album to help put us all back together. First Rose of Spring is an album that won’t ever lose its bloom.

Willie Nelson’s, “We Are the Cowboys” – new track and video

Friday, June 19th, 2020

Willie Nelson’s “We Are The Cowboys” — New Track And Video from upcoming Studio Album First Rose Of Spring
Premieres Today to Celebrate Father’s Day This Weekend.

NEW YORK “We Are The Cowboys”–the fourth single and latest video from Willie Nelson’s forthcoming studio album First Rose Of Spring–premieres online today, Friday, June 19.    The new video for “We Are The Cowboys,” created and directed by Willie’s son Micah Nelson, comes just ahead of Father’s Day.

Watch the video here:  

The song, originally recorded by Billy Joe Shaver on I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal in 1981, was also recorded on Honky Tonk Heroes, by a collective of Shaver, Willie, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson in 1999 (produced by Shaver’s late son, Eddy, at Nelson’s studio in Pedernales, Texas).   

Like many of the songs on First Rose Of Spring, “We Are The Cowboys” begins with familiar iconic imagery then delivers you somewhere unexpected.

“The cowboys are riding tall in the saddle/
They shoot from the heart with the songs that they play,” Nelson sings, before rhapsodizing about “a right handsome woman on up around Boulder” and declaring,

“We are the cowboys, the true sons of freedom/We are the men who will get the job done.” 

The song then makes a surprising turn not often heard in cowboy anthems: “Cowboys are average American people/Texicans, Mexicans, Black men and Jews/They love this old world and they don’t want to lose it/They’re counting on me and they’re counting on you.”   

In spotlighting this song, Willie makes it clear what the good guys or “cowboys” should be doing, for the sake of us all: “The world will breathe easy when we stop the bleeding/The fighting will end when all hunger is gone/There are those who are blind so we’ll all have to lead them/It’s everyone’s job till we get the work done.”  

Willie Nelson and Billy Joe Shaver extended cowboy ideals to recent and current American history: There’s a job to be done, bleeding and hunger to be stopped and prejudice to be overcome. With “We Are The Cowboys,” Willie has brought a nearly 40 year-old song back to life at just the right time.

First Rose Of Spring will be available on CD, vinyl and digital formats as well as part of exclusive merch bundles on Willie’s web store on Friday, July 3. Fans may pre-order the First Rose Of Spring album and listen to “We Are The Cowboys” now at: 

Nelson’s 70th solo studio album (and 14th for Legacy Recordings), First Rose Of Spring is the artist’s first new release since winning the 2020 Best Country Solo Performance Grammy Award–Willie’s 10th overall (not including his Grammy Legend and Lifetime Achievement Awards)–for “Ride Me Back Home,” the title track from his 2019 Legacy Recordings release.

The previous year, My Way, Willie’s musical homage to Frank Sinatra took home the Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.  An essential addition to the Willie Nelson canon, First Rose Of Spring is an eloquent new chapter in the chronicles of one of America’s greatest musical troubadours.

Willie Nelson wins Grammy for, “Ride Me Back Home” (2020)

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020

The 2020 Grammy for Best Country Solo Performance has been awarded to Willie Nelson for his “Ride Me Back Home,” from his 2019 album of the same name

Nominees in this category this year included Tyler Childers for “All Your’n,” Ashley McBryde‘s “Girl Goin’ Nowhere,” Blake Shelton for “God’s Country” and Tanya Tucker‘s “Bring My Flowers Now.”

Over his career, Nelson has been nominated for 52 Grammys. His most recent win was in 2019 for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album (for My Way). He has previously won for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album in 2016 for Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin, Best Country Collaboration With Vocals in 2007 for “Lost Highway” and again in 2002 for “Mendocino County Line.”

In 2000, he was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to music. In 1990, he won the Grammy Legend Award, and in 1986 he was honored with the President’s Merit Award.

In 1982 he was awarded with the Best Male Country Vocal Performance for “Always on My Mind” and once again in 1978 for “Georgia On My Mind.” He took home the Best Country Song for “On The Road Again” in 1980. “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” took home Best Country Vocal Performance By A Duo or Group in 1978.

His first Grammy Award win was in 1975 at the 18th Annual Grammy Awards for “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.

Willie Nelson in Jamaica (June 2015), Countryman

Monday, June 15th, 2020
Nashville, TN – Music icon Willie Nelson was in Ocho Rios, Jamaica last week shooting two new videos for his upcoming Lost Highway release Countryman, out July 12, 2005. The legendary Toots Hibbert (of Toots & The Maytals) is featured in a duet with Nelson in the video for the Johnny Cash/June Carter Cash song “I’m A Worried Man”, as well as on the CD release. Nelson also shot a video for his rendition of Jimmy Cliff’s classic song “The Harder They Come”. On the set during the shoot was Perry Henzell, who wrote and directed the groundbreaking film The Harder They Come in 1972. Also on the set was director Dickie Jobson who directed the legendary film Countryman (1978?), from which the title of Nelson’s new album was pulled as an acknowledgement to Jamaican lore. The videos for “I’m A Worried Man” and “The Harder They Come” were both directed by Jamaican native Ras Kassa, who recently directed Damian Marley’s hit “Trenchtown Rock”, among others.
1. Do you Mind Too Much If I don’t Understand 2. How Long is Forever? 3. I’m a Worried Man” (featuring Toots Hibbert) 4. The Harder They Come 5. Something to Think About 6. Sitting in Limbo 7. Darkness on the Face of the Earth 8. One in a Row 9. I’ve Just Destroyed the World I’m Living In 10. You Left Me a Long, Long Time Ago 11. I Guess I’ve Come to Live Here 12. Undo the Right

New Willie Nelson album – just what we need

Sunday, June 14th, 2020
by: Bill Murphy

No matter what’s happening around him, you can bet safe money that Willie Nelson still can’t wait to get on the road again. From the confines of his Luck Ranch on the outskirts of Austin, Texas, he’s trying to make the most of the conditions that forced him to cancel the remaining dates on his spring tour and delayed the release of his latest album, First Rose of Spring. But after speaking with him for just a few minutes, it’s pretty clear that nothing, not even a coronavirus pandemic, will keep the ever-resilient country music hero from staying focused on the future.

“I mean, for now we just have to work with what we get,” he says matter-of-factly in his amiable, zen-like drawl. “We’re up in the hill country, and everybody seems to be pretty healthy, so we’re just trying to keep it that way. But we have a few things we’re planning online, and then I’ve been going in the studio every day since I’ve been here. I have a lot of stuff happening with Micah, my son—he’s recording some. We just need to have something to do, because you can’t do nothing else, really.”

By the end of April, Nelson and his family production team had hosted four of his Luck Presents events from the ranch, including the annual Luck Reunion, which normally draws 4,000 fortunate fans to Nelson’s property for a day-long music festival. It was quickly reconfigured as a livestream called “‘Til Further Notice” and aired on its originally scheduled date of March 19. In the closing highlight, Nelson sat in his living room with his two multi-talented sons, Lukas and Micah, to play a freewheeling acoustic rendition of his longtime live staple “Whiskey River.” And a few weeks later, the three convened again to perform “Hands on the Wheel,” from Nelson’s classic 1975 breakthrough Red Headed Stranger, for his long-running Farm Aid benefit.

Under the circumstances, it’s a treat to get a glimpse of the Nelson family at home, but it’s also a painful reminder of what we’re missing. Willie Nelson in concert is more than just a performer. He’s an experience unto himself: a walking, talking wellspring of country, soul, blues, and jazz lore, and a profoundly gifted interpreter of music who can take a crowd of 70,000 people on an emotional journey that lingers for the rest of their lives.

There’s a bittersweetness, a sweeping sense of nostalgia, in that notion, which Nelson captures perfectly on First Rose of Spring. Produced by longtime friend and confidant Buddy Cannon, who has helped craft Nelson’s sound—and co-written a growing number of songs—on some 15 recordings going back to 2008’s Moment of Forever, the album is as much a statement of love, hope, reflection, and, yes, house-rocking and hell-raising, as it is a solemn and intimate portrait of a man fondly looking back over a life that’s been lived to the fullest.

Of course, the title song pretty much says it all. “First Rose of Spring” is first and foremost a sweet love song, and finds Nelson singing with unusual tenderness, clarity, and strength, while the brief solo he takes on Trigger—his instantly recognizable road-beaten Martin N-20 nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, which he acquired new back in 1969—crackles with the sound of Texas blues and flamenco-flavored Mexican folk, all imbued with Nelson’s confident touch and quirky, fleet-fingered licks.

“I just love Willie’s guitar playing,” Cannon says from his home just outside of Nashville. “Every time he plays Trigger, he plays something different. I mean, he even surprises himself. Sometimes he’ll play something and he’ll laugh, you know? Everything is improv with him. He doesn’t sit and think, ‘Hey, how about this lick? Let me work on this and get it right.’ He never plays the same thing. You can play the same song, same track, 10 times, and everywhere he places a note is different every time—and to me, it’s all correct. It’s never wrong.”

Nelson might wave off the praise, but it’s clear that he trusts Cannon implicitly in the studio. “Buddy and I just work really well together,” he says. “He’s in Nashville, and I’m usually somewhere else, so he’ll cut the tracks in Nashville, using the musicians he likes to work with, and then when things are ready, normally he’ll come down here to my studio. Then I’ll just go in and do my parts. It’s really an easy way to record.”

It’s also testament to Cannon’s talents that he can make the album sound like it was tracked with everyone in the room together [see sidebar, “Trigger Happy:Buddy Cannon on Recording with Willie”]. “Blue Star” and “Love Just Laughed,” in particular, both new songs that Nelson co-wrote with Cannon, stand out for the way Trigger meshes in the mix with the harmonica licks of longtime band member Mickey Raphael, as well as the buttery steel guitar played by Mike Johnson, and the lush Fender Rhodes (on “Blue Star”) by keyboardist Catherine Marx.

Nelson plays through a vintage Baldwin C1 Custom amp, which accents the lushness of the Martin while also giving it a unique bite that responds to his touch, and can cut through any wall of sound, depending on how hard he plays.

Back in ’69, Trigger was outfitted with the Prismatone pickup from a Baldwin 800C acoustic-electric guitar, which Nelson had been playing for a year or two, until one night, according to the legend, a drunken fan accidentally crushed it underfoot after a gig in a San Antonio suburb.) And, as the years have shown, he does play hard. Since the mid ’70s, a distinctive gash has opened up in the guitar’s spruce top that, to this day, requires periodic repairs by Austin-based luthier and guitar guru Mark Erlewine.

For all the ballads on First Rose, Nelson still went for what he says felt right, from the campfire-like mood of Chris Stapleton’s beautiful “Our Song” to the honky-tonk groove of “I’m the Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised,” made famous in 1977 by none other than Johnny Paycheck. “Me and Paycheck were good buddies,” Nelson says, “and I loved what he did on that record. But yeah, I just picked what was available and did pretty much what I wanted to do, you know? I think that’s the way it ought to be.”

Nowhere else does that intention come through more forcefully than on the album’s closer, “Yesterday When I Was Young,” made famous by the late Roy Clark back in 1969. Nelson seems literally to feel the song in his bones, while his picking of the main melody and plucking of the underlying chords conjures visions of Django Reinhardt (one of his childhood heroes) laying back on a classic ballad like “September Song”—complete with a string section to heighten the sanctified mood.

Of course, Nelson is fully conscious of the song’s implications, since it’s such a moving and heartfelt way to close the album. “I thought so, too, and I’m glad you agree,” he says. “I remember hearing Roy Clark doing it a hundred years ago. He really turned me on to that song, and I’ve loved it ever since.”

He pauses to consider the memory. Having just turned 87, and having lost so many close friends in recent years—including his longtime drummer and best friend Paul English, who passed away in February—Nelson can be forgiven for sounding a bit sentimental. The thing is, a sense of vulnerability is part of what makes his music so accessible. From his country standards “Crazy” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” to his latter-day hits “Always on My Mind” and “On the Road Again,” a palpable warmth, openness, and humanity runs through everything he’s ever recorded.

Nelson also took naturally to the ethos of the “outlaw” country sound that he’s credited with helping to invent. After all, his penchant for cannabis is well documented, and although he gave up smoking late last year, his weed brand Willie’s Reserve, launched in 2015, is currently in, well, high demand. But he’d also point out that his buddies Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver, David Allan Coe, and so many more were just as integral to the building of the mystique. The thing they have in common: They grabbed life by the throat and never let go.

Nelson picks up that thread and runs with it. “You know, Buddy and I also wrote some stuff for a new album that we’ve started,” he reveals. “One song is called ‘Live Every Day’—that’s the title. It goes, ‘Treat everyone like you want to be treated, and see how that changes your life. Yesterday’s dead, tomorrow is blind, and the future is way out of sight. So just live every day like it was your last one, and one day you’ll be right.’” He pauses again, to let the words sink in.

“It’s not bad,” he says finally.

Not bad, indeed. Read on for the rest of Premier Guitar’s candid chat with the one and only Willie Nelson.

Willie Nelson sings, “Our Song”, by Chris Stapleton

Tuesday, June 9th, 2020
by: Ryan Reichard

Willie Nelson has released a gorgeous new ballad called “Our Song” from his upcoming album, First Rose of Spring.

The ballad was written by Chris Stapleton, who has grown close with Nelson, having toured with the country music icon several times over the past couple of years.

In a statement, Stapleton reveals what it was like to have one of his own heroes sing his song, saying, “I can easily say Willie Nelson is one of my biggest musical influences. It just doesn’t get any better than hearing him sing a song I wrote.”

“Our Song” is the second release from First Rose of Spring, following the introduction of the album’s title track on Feb. 21. “Our Song” finds the 87-year-old reflecting on the life that he has lived as he sings, “In this time that I’ve been given / To fill my life with living / Yes, regrets, I’ve got a few / But, honey, none of them is you / And I need you / Like a singer needs a song.”

“Our Song” is not the first time that Stapleton’s and Nelson’s musical paths have crossed. Stapleton included a cover of Nelson’s 1982 song “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning” on his 2017 album From A Room: Volume 1. 

First Rose of Spring is Nelson’s 70th studio album, and his first new album since the country music icon took home the Grammy Award for Best Country Solo Performance in 2020 for his song “Ride Me Back Home.”

The album was originally scheduled for April 24, a few days before Nelson celebrated his 87th birthday on April 29. Due to the spread of coronavirus, it has since been delayed until July 3. First Rose of Spring is currently available for pre-order.

Read More: Hear the Beautiful Ballad Chris Stapleton Wrote for Willie Nelson |

Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, “VH1 Storytellers”

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020
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Red Headed Stranger (June 1, 1975)

Monday, June 1st, 2020

Willie Nelson’s, “First Rose of Spring” (review by Mikal Gilmore)

Friday, May 29th, 2020
by: Mikal Gilmore

In 2019, with Ride Me Back Home [LISTEN], Willie Nelson seemed to be winding up a trilogy — begun in 2017 with God’s Problem Child [LISTEN], followed by 2018’s Last Man Standing [LISTEN]— that was largely about mortality. It doesn’t seem surprising that an 87-year-old singer should have the subject in mind, though it’s not something Nelson is necessarily solemn about. In God’s Problem Child’s “Still Not Dead Today,” he addressed the matter of death hoaxes that had alarmed fans and plagued his family with a life-affirming honky-tonk beat, targeting in particular a troubling website report that Nelson had been found dead on his property by a groundskeeper: “Well, I woke up still not dead again today/The gardener did not find me that a way…/I woke up still not dead again today.” In Last Man Standing’s title song — another rowdy-sounding contemplation of life’s bound-to-happen closure, he sang: “I don’t wanna be the last man standin’/Or, wait a minute, maybe I do…/Go on in front if you’re in such a hurry/Like heaven ain’t waitin’ for you.”

This isn’t to suggest Nelson didn’t take the matter seriously. In that same title, he sang: “It’s getting hard to watch my pals check out/It cuts like a wore out knife/One thing I’ve learned about running the road/Is forever don’t apply to life. /Waylon and Ray and Merle…/Lived just as fast as me/I’ve still got a lot of good friends left/And I wonder who the next will be.” He was referring to the deaths of his friends — Waylon Jennings, Ray Price and Merle Haggard. When I once remarked to him that his recent records — which, in addition to this trilogy, have included a duet volume with Merle Haggard and tributes to Ray Price, George Gershwin and Frank Sinatra) amount to an extraordinary period for him, his dark brown eyes flinched. “Considering the fact that we’ve lost a lot of good friends, ‘extraordinary’ is one word for it,” he said. ‘Unfortunate’ is another. You get mixed emotions about all those things.” Buddy Cannon, Nelson’s producer and co-writer of many years (they first worked together in 2008), noted at the time that it’s only in the songs that Willie is willing to address the subject. “I haven’t had any, like, ‘death conversations’ with Willie,” he says. “As far as our songs go, we don’t talk about them. We just write them. But it’s pretty obvious, you know? None of us are getting any younger. People are falling away too quickly anymore.”

First Rose of Spring [LISTEN]seems at first a departure from honky-tonk mortality tales. It’s more plaintive sounding, even rapturous at times, and love — in one way or another — is all over these songs. In the title track — by Randy Houser, Allen Shamblin and Mark Beeson — that opens the album, an acoustic guitar’s gentle lacework and the married tones of Mickey Raphael’s harmonica and Mike Johnson’s pedal steel (the “wistful instruments,” says Raphael) create a lulling bedding of sound, as Willie depicts a love-struck awakening: “The first time that he saw her/He knew everything had changed/Overnight love started blooming/Like the first rose of spring.” It’s a rendering of hope in a season of birth and renewal, and the music swells with a steady rhythmic accompaniment that works like a safeguard for hope. Over the next few verses a life of fulfillment unfolds for the narrator whose perspective guides the story. The woman “colored his life, opened his eyes/To things he’d never dream…/Gave him children like a garden/They gave ’em all the love they’d need.” In turn, the man is enduringly grateful: “every year he’d bring her/The first rose of spring.” That is, every year he bestowed upon her a symbolic renewal of their original promise.

Then, as the song nears its end, that safeguard rhythm — the pulse of hope — drops out and the steel wails faintly, like a dream’s vestige. “The last time he saw her,” sings Willie, “He knew everything had changed/He said goodbye and let the tears fall like rain/On the first rose of spring.” Days after hearing the track the first few times I told Cannon I found Willie’s delivery of those moments quietly devastating. The tale turned abruptly from an idyll to a heartbreak — a portrayal of a love that lived until it couldn’t live anymore, the dissolution of a marriage in a couple’s later years. The song doesn’t dwell on it — it’s just one concise verse about a marriage that seemed made for the ages but then lost its promise. Then again, the lyric didn’t need to expound: The rose that, at the beginning, was a symbol of hope ends up covered with tears. It’s now more a funeral flower than a blossoming.

“If I’m not mistaken,” Cannon replied, “this may be the song that was the trigger point to get this album started. I’d sent it to Willie a while back, then one day he e-mailed me and said, ‘I love this song — let’s go in and cut it.’ I guess he had been listening to it. That was before we had started recording the album.” But Cannon also told me that my reading of the song was off — there was a different sorrow at work than the one I’d heard. “It’s a true story, about Randy Houser’s in-laws.”

Houser is a Nashville singer-songwriter who has written for Trace Adkins and Jessie James, as well as recording several albums of his own, including 2019’s Magnolia. “’First Rose of Spring,’ he told me, “is about my wife’s grandmother and her grandfather. They lived on top of this building in Melbourne, Australia. The two of them were life partners — you know, soul mates. He grew roses up there and every year he would bring her the first rose out of the garden. He was a very strong man — a man of stature in business, used to running everything — but he knew he wouldn’t have gone anywhere in life if it hadn’t been for his wife. She got cancer — this was a couple of years ago — and when she was near the end, he walked in with a rose, the first rose of spring. He was saying his good-bye. My wife was present and sent a photo of the moment while he was standing there. I got the idea of wanting to write about this I had the melody and the first lines, and then I took it two master songwriters who I knew, Allen Shamblin and Mark Beeson. That way I knew it wouldn’t get screwed up.” Shamblin had written songs recorded by Randy Travis, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bonnie Raitt and Mark Wills; Beeson had written for Pat Green, Martina McBride, LeAnn Rhimes and Blake Shelton. “I wanted to honor what that couple went through but truth is, I never heard anybody singing the song other than Willie. I never pitched Willie a song before — never thought I had anything good enough to pitch him.”

What was it in Willie’s voice that made Houser write the song with him in mind?

“It wasn’t just Willie’s voice,” he replied, “but Willie’s life. This is a story that a person with experience should be telling — not a 44-year-old singer like myself. Willie asked me at one point, ‘You’re not going to put that song out yourself?’ I told him, ‘Willie, that’s your song. That song was started for you. I don’t believe me as much as I do you on this song.’”

Did I say that First Rose of Spring seemed a departure from the mortality cycle? Instead, mortality is there right at the start — but it sneaks up on us. What makes the moment so effective is how it weaves memory with tense. That is, it’s a past tense song that, in the intimacy Willie’s voice, feels like a present-tense story — like something the singer chooses, or more likely needs, to share with you directly. But he doesn’t tell you what he’s going to tell you until he tells you. It’s a simple but powerful story-telling technique, and Houser is right in thinking that Nelson imbues it with a distinctive believability. This is a trait that Willie has put to good use in his nearly sixty years of record making. He does it so well, in fact, that we sometimes receive a song that Willie didn’t write — for example, “Always on my Mind” — foremost as a Willie song. He share’s this skill with his favorite singer, Frank Sinatra, who is also closely identified with songs he sang but didn’t write, yet we reflexively identify them as Sinatra’s. (Nelson himself recorded a whole volume of then on 2018’s My Way [LISTEN].) Willie, of course, has written dozens of his own evergreens; Sinatra only helped pen one, “I’m a Fool to Want You.” But no matter: Sinatra owned a song when he performed it. “Whatever else has been said about me,” once told an interviewer, “is unimportant. When I sing, I believe.” Nelson employs that same approach — as colloquial as it is musical — in “First Rose of Spring” and elsewhere on this album. It’s as if he is sitting in some room, after midnight, talking to someone — to a friend, to you, to me — sharing a living thought or an enduring memory. That style was one of the reasons that, in the 1960s and early 1970s, Nashville producers didn’t figure out how to record Nelson. They thought his singing was too colloquial: It disregarded strict tempo — it would quicken or slacken — though without altering the overall pace. Nashville couldn’t accommodate that idiosyncrasy. Like Sinatra — or Billie Holiday, for that matter — Nelson was trying to tell a story as much as sing a song. Of course, this is now recognized as an essential quality of Willie’s greatness, and Buddy Cannon knows how to accommodate it to its best effect. “Willie’s a jazz singer,” he says, “and jazz player. He’s an improvisational musician. Why play and sing the parts over and over and over? It’s going to be different every time. Get a good one and go with it…. There’s no coaching Willie. It would take someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, at least where he’s concerned, to go out there and try to tell him how to sing.”

“Our Song” written by Chris Stapleton, the second single from First Rose Of Spring

Indeed, Willie always finds a matchless way with a song, and that includes the ones he hasn’t written himself, by others he admires. (Bob Dylan once noted that when Willie Nelson sings a song, then it has been sung.) One such songwriter is Chris Stapleton, whose “Our Song” Nelson premieres here. Willie’s longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael had also recorded and performed with Stapleton whose been seen by some as continuing the Outlaw tradition and whose music plumbs depths of loss and love. “Chris is just one of these great songwriters and great guys and great guitar players,” says Raphael. “Willie had heard me talk about him or play some of his music, then he became a fan of his too. It’s kind of a natural fit, the two of them. I was with Chris one time and he said, ‘I wrote this song for Willie.’ He played it for me and I said, ‘You’ve got to send it to him.’ Chris was kind of hemming and hawing, but then he just got out his iPhone and recut a demo right there in the dressing room. I pushed him to send it to Buddy.” The producer immediately liked it. “I sent it down to Willie and he liked it, too,” says Buddy. “I had Chris come in and sing the scratch vocal on it when we cut the track, so I could get it as close to the way I was feeling it as I could.” The result is something that’s brand new yet feels like a pledge of love and grace that’s already indelible in our memory: “In these miles that we have traveled/You’ve watched me come unraveled/And you’ve put me back together again,” Nelson sings in a voice that recognizes the song’s frame of heart. “And when darkness hung around/You kept my feet there on the ground/And you held me like a lover and a friend.” “It’s kind of Willie-esque,” says Cannon. Says Stapleton: “I can easily say Willie Nelson is one of my biggest musical influences. For me it just doesn’t get any better than hearing him sing a song I wrote.”

That intimate manner of Nelson’s — his ability to talk to us directly — and his attraction to telling stories in which the singer and the listener are living in the same moment, also interact with how memory works in two other songs here, including “I’ll Break Out Again Tonight.” The song — a different kind of prison tale — was written by Whitey Shafer and Doodle Owens for an underrated 1974 Merle Haggard album, If We Make It Through December, and it fit that late artist’s persona as a one-time convict. Haggard’s version played as a late-night barroom account, more honky-tonk than doleful, whereas Willie’s feels more chilling: It’s solitary. The song’s title alone seems to be setting us up for a jailbreak tale. Instead, a prisoner takes us inside his mind, where the only escape available to him, night after night, is in the form of dreams and imagination: “These walls and bars can’t hold a dreamin’ man,” intones Willie, “So I’ll be home to tuck the babies in/They can chain my body, but not my mind/And I’ll break out again tonight.” Cannon told me: “The guy’s a little bit out of his mind, but in being out of his mind he found a way to live. It’s how he stays close to the people he loves.”

Internal brooding also figures into “Stealing Home, a song by Buddy’s daughter, Marla Cannon-Goodman (with Casey Beathard and Don Sampson), an unwanted past becomes a haunting present. “Being young got old, I couldn’t wait to grow up,” the singer relates. “When I finally hit 18 I got out of this tired old town.” But on a return visit, the singer realizes that something inestimable got forsworn by fleeing, and can’t be found again: “Little sister’s not right down the hall/Rex ain’t around to fetch his ball/No need to ride to grandma’s down the road/Damn old Father Time for stealing home.” Marla, who also co-wrote “Unfair Weather Friend” on Nelson’s 2015 album with Merle Haggard, Django and Jimmy, wrote the song eighteen years ago and had long imagined Nelson recording it. “I knew he liked it because he told me he did,” she says. “I kept thinking, ‘Maybe one of these days, maybe one of these days.’ Then, finally…one of these days.” It proved worth the wait. Like Randy Houser, Marla knew the voice it was meant for. “It’s funny being a songwriter,” she says, “because you hear the song a certain way in your head. But the way it makes me feel in my head now is the way Willie sounds when he sings it.”

The other considerable theme on First Rose of Spring is age. “Blue Star,” which follows “First Rose of Spring” feels of a piece with the prior song, “First Rose of Spring.” Indeed, it could work as a sequel, if death can be said to have a sequel. The music fits the same tone of reverie of the title song, and the lyrics move in the same straits of undying love. “You know I’ll follow you to the end,” sings Nelson, “Whenever that is we both will know. /And I will follow you again/Anywhere that love can go.” The singer is implicitly older than the person he is singing to; he knows he’s the one who could go first: “And if I beat you to the end/I’ve had a big head start its true/We’re just riding on the wind/Still the same ol’ me and you/And when we reach the heaven’s bright/I’ll be the blue star on your right.” The singer is talking to the person he loves, and whom he doesn’t intend to leave forever when life ends. He’ll be out there, waiting.

Willie also mines the subject of age in other key songs here: neo-traditionalist country artist Toby Keith’s “Don’t Let the Old Man In,” and “French chanteur and songwriter Charles Aznavour “Yesterday When I Was Young.” Keith was 58 when he wrote “Don’t Let the Old Man In,” for Clint Eastwood’s 2018 film The Mule. Both the song and the film are about the same thing: an aged man who won’t let his age impede him. When Toby premiered the song, he related the tale of playing at Eastwood’s Carmel golf tournament in 2018 when he learned that the actor’s 88th birthday was coming up in two days. Toby asked the actor how he planned to celebrate the occasion and Eastwood said: “Funny you should ask. I am leaving tomorrow to shoot a movie for three months called The Mule.” Keith was surprised. At his age and stature, Eastwood could easily have retired. He didn’t have to make or appear in films anymore. Toby wondered where that sort of energy comes from. Eastwood replied: “I just get up every morning and go out. And I don’t let the old man in.” Keith thought, “I’m writing that.” What Toby came up with was a statement of understanding: He put himself in the shoes of somebody 30 years older than himself and envisioned the person’s mettle: “I knew all of my life, that someday it would end/Get up and go outside, don’t let the old man in.” After Eastwood heard it, he featured the song over the film’s closing credits. And when Buddy Cannon heard it, he wanted to bring Willie’s voice to it. “I think it’s the best song Toby Keith’s ever written,” says the producer. Though Keith wrote “Don’t Let the Old Man In” for Eastwood, it could have been tailor-made for Nelson as his credo. Sings Willie: “I knew all of my life/That someday it would end/Get up and go outside/Don’t let the old man in/Many moons I have lived/My body’s weathered and worn/Ask yourself how old you’d be/If you didn’t know the day you were born.” In Willie’s case, not letting the old man in has been a way of life for some time. Says Toby Keith about Nelson’s recording of the song: “Through the years I’ve always enjoyed the many times I’ve got to share a guitar or a stage or a song with Willie. It’s truly an honor anytime he records one of my songs. ‘Don’t Let the Old Man In’: He killed it.”

Though Charles Aznavour (once dubbed a “French pop deity” by the New York Times) was 94 when died in 2018, like Keith he wrote a masterpiece about old age while he was still relatively young — just 54, in 1964. “Yesterday When I Was Young” assumed the outlook of a man nearing the end of his life, looking back at his younger wastrel years, realizing he’d bypassed his better self and it was now too late to reclaim lost time. Buddy Cannon says he long had the idea of Nelson recording the song, but held off. “I guess I was thinking maybe he wouldn’t want to sing about not being young anymore, but eventually he sent it to me. I was excited about getting a chance to do that song because it is a great piece of material. Willie’s version is like a Sinatra song — a crooner song. The chord structure and melody are more pop than country. You could have plugged that song into the Stardust album. It’s just a classic saloon-vibe.”

“Yesterday When I Was Young” is certainly an interesting choice for Willie Nelson. Some lines fit him well: “Yesterday, when I was young/So many happy songs were waiting to be sung.” Others, though, don’t. When he sings, “There are so many songs in me that won’t be sung…/The time has come for me to pay for/Yesterday, when I was young,” it’s hard to envision Willie with that brand of contrition. After all, almost nobody has sung so many songs. and sung them so definitively. as Willie Nelson. What moves us about this version, though, is that like Sinatra, when Nelson sings, he believes. That’s more than method acting: It’s empathy — which is Willie’s single greatest facet as a singer. He understands the down-deep experience of his subjects because, matchless accomplishments or not, he also has felt such pain and yearning. Willie can commune with regret because he’s felt it — and just as important, he commiserates with those, young and old, who have felt also loss or remorse.

Just as important, Willie Nelson’s singing also signifies affinity for those who feel dispossessed. On last year’s Ride Me Back Home he covered Guy Clark and Roger Murrah’s “Immigrant Eyes. This time he covers something by another giant of Texas songwriting and poetry, Billy Joe Shaver. Billy Joe is the originator of country music’s 1970s Outlaws movement. Shaver’s larger-than-life and roughhewn, and widely revered — elegant in his words, and loving and compassionate to not just friends but to those in need of tolerance and mercy.

“We Are the Cowboys” is a surprisingly little-known song, first recorded by Shaver on I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal in 1981, and again on an album, Honky Tonk Heroes, by a collective of Shaver, Willie, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson in 1999 (produced by Shaver’s late son, Eddy, at Nelson’s studio in Pedernales, Texas). Willie wanted to record a new rendition because, as was the case with “Immigrant Eyes,” this is a statement whose time has come again. Like much of what’s on First Rose of Spring, the song begins in familiar territory then delivers you someplace surprising. “The cowboys are riding tall in the saddle/They shoot from the heart with the songs that they play/We are the cowboys, the true sons of freedom/We are the men who will get the job done.” This is familiar enough iconic imagery, but then the song proclaims the sort creed not heard before in cowboy anthems: “Cowboys are average American people/Texicans, Mexicans, black men and Jews/They love this old world and they don’t want to lose it/They’re counting on me and they’re counting on you.” When Mickey Raphael and I were discussing the song he said, “I don’t know that many Jewish cowboys, but the metaphor there is fabulous.” And brave. We come to think of a cowboy, as Cannon pointed out to me, as “the good guy — the guy in the white hat,” but we might not readily think of the cowboy as standing for equal racial rights and social goodwill. In spotlighting the song, Willie makes plain that that’s what the truly good guys should be doing, for the sake of us all: “The world will breathe easy when we stop the bleeding/The fighting will end when all hunger is gone/There are those who are blind so we’ll all have to lead them/It’s everyone’s job till we get the work done.” If “We Are the Cowboys” is a song overlooked for nearly forty years, Willie Nelson has brought it back alive at just the right time, and he infuses it with the sorrow and hope that our land today calls for.

First Rose of Spring, then, is another remarkable entry by Willie Nelson in a latter-day canon that began with God’s Problem Child in 2017, and has continued through Last Man Standing and Ride Me Back Home. I called those first three albums a trilogy, but with this work (as well as the 2018 Sinatra tribute, My Way) maybe it’s better to think of these as a cycle. At the same time, descriptors like trilogy and cycle are just a critic’s construction, imposed on a continuing series of some of the finest original albums that any artist has produced, in any genre, in his or her autumnal phase. As Buddy Cannon told me, they didn’t set out with the idea of creating a unified body of work. “When we’re making a record we’re just trying to find the best songs we can find and that I can get the singer to agree with me on. They don’t begin as cohesive albums on the front end. It’s more about me finding ten or twelve songs fit well together. If something doesn’t fit, you discard it and find something that does fit.”

Still, the themes are there: mortality, heartbreak, memory and courage and American ideals, with love and death as the great levelers. But then Willie Nelson has always sung about these things, with inimitable insight and grace. A while back, when I brought up the idea of these works as making for a collective whole, Cannon said, “Just think of each album as the page of a book. Willie never stops turning the pages.” Nelson himself acknowledged as much on last year’s Ride Me Back Home: “I’ve got one more song to write/I’ve got one more bridge to burn/I’ve got one more endless night/One more lesson to be learned…/ There ain’t no secrets left to hide/My life’s an open book/Turn the page and have a look.” It’s a testament to the man and his art that we so often find traces of ourselves and our land on those pages.

Read article here.

Willie Nelson sings the songs of Cindy Walker

Monday, May 18th, 2020

Release date: March 14, 2006

Bubbles in My Beer Not That I Care Take Me In Your Arms and Hold Me Don’t be Ashamed of your Age You Don’t Know Me Sugar Moon I Don’t Care Cherokee Maiden The Warm Red Wine Miss Molly Dusty Skies It’s All Your Fault I Was Just Walkin’ Out The Door

Ms. Walker pronounces Mr. Nelson’s latest CD “wonderful.” While she was not directly involved, the disc does feature a number of her peers. The fiddler Johnny Gimble, credited as session leader, played with Wills’s band for many years, in addition to frequent stints with Mr. Nelson. Fred Foster is a close friend of Ms. Walker’s who produced Roy Orbison’s hit version of her “Dream Baby,” as well as her sole LP, the 1964 “Words and Music.” His arrangements on “Songs of Cindy Walker,” which include backing vocals by the Jordanaires, are retro but clean-lined, with a modern use of space.

Cindy Walker
by Will Hermes
March 13, 2006

At this point, Willie Nelson is a national monument. One of country music’s most fertile songwriters, tireless performers and distinctive vocal interpreters, he is also a longtime ambassador between red and blue states of mind; he has been pals with presidents, allegedly smoked marijuana on the White House roof (and just about everywhere else), founded Farm Aid to assist family farms and recently launched his own biodiesel fuel company.

And Mr. Nelson has made dozens of records and this year he’s on a roll. In addition to campaigning for hurricane relief and the usual endless touring, he has released ” in light of the media attention surrounding the hit film “Brokeback Mountain” a touching version of Ned Sublette’s gay cowboy homage “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly (Fond of Each Other)” as an exclusive single on iTunes. And this month, Mr. Nelson, 72, will release a record of pop and country classics titled “Songs of Cindy Walker.”

So much for the lethargy of pot smokers.

In addition to being a tremendously likable, laid-back set of classics with jaunty, western swing-flavored arrangements by the veteran Nashville producer Fred Foster, “Songs of Cindy Walker” spotlights another monument of American music, one who might have been forgotten had she ever been properly known in the first place. Ms. Walker, who lives and works in the small East Texas town of Mexia, is a prolific songwriter whose works have been covered by Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Ernest Tubb, Roy Orbison and many others. Her tunes ” including “You Don’t Know Me,” “Dream Baby,” “In the Misty Moonlight,” “I Don’t Care” made regular appearances on the top 10 charts beginning in the 1940’s and are still covered today.

With hundreds of recorded songs to her credit, she is known as the dean of Texas songwriting and is generally considered the foremost female composer in country music history; in fact, the late Harlan Howard called her “the greatest living songwriter of country music” and he had some claim to that title himself.

“Her work as a writer, spanning so many decades, and still getting things cut, is unparalleled,” said Eddie Stubbs, country music historian and announcer for the Grand Ole Opry broadcasts on WSM-AM in Nashville. “A lot of the songs she wrote have become standards, although people may not know Cindy Walker wrote them.”

A good example of her direct, finely chiseled art is “You Don’t Know Me.” A hit for Eddy Arnold in 1956, Ray Charles in 1962 and Mickey Gilley in 1981, it was re-recorded by Mr. Charles with Norah Jones for 2004’s best-selling “Genius Loves Company,” and is the lead single for Mr. Nelson’s record. It telegraphs the silent longing of a man for a female friend:

You give your hand to me and then you say hello
And I can hardly speak my heart is beating so
And anyone could tell you think you know me well
But you don’t know me.

Some of Ms. Walker’s best-known songs — “Miss Molly,” “Cherokee Maiden,” “Sugar Moon” â” were written for Bob Wills, a fellow East Texan and master of the country-jazz hybrid known as western swing. In fact, she wrote more than 50 songs for Mr. Wills, the Texas Playboys bandleader.

“Wills was a big hero of mine,” Mr. Nelson said by telephone from his tour bus before a show near Fresno, Calif. “And Cindy is from Mexia, Tex., which is only a few miles from Abbott, where I was born and grew up. I didn’t know her personally in those days, but I was well familiar with her writing. I told her years ago I wanted to do an album of her songs; she’d probably given up on me.”

She hadn’t, but she was hardly holding her breath ” she was too busy writing. Ms. Walker began writing songs when she was around 12, and until a recent stretch of ill health, she never stopped. Each morning, she woke up before dawn, poured herself some black coffee, headed upstairs to her little studio, sat down at her pink-trimmed Royal typewriter (which graces the cover of Mr. Nelson’s CD) and set to work.

“Songwriting is all I ever did, love,” Ms. Walker said in an interview last month from her home. “I still can’t cook, to this day!”

She has been in the music game for a while. As a young woman visiting Los Angeles in 1940 with her father, Aubrey (a cotton buyer), and mother, Oree, she talked her way into what was the Crosby building on Sunset Strip in an attempt to show her suitcase of songs to Bing. When she got an on-the-spot audition with his brother, Larry Crosby, she ran to get Oree, her lifelong piano accompanist.

“Mama said: ‘Are you crazy, girl? Don’t you know I’m not goin’ anywhere with my hair not fixed? It’s up in rollers!’ And I said, ‘I don’t care what it’s in ” You c’mon with me!’ ” With Oree at the piano, she sang a song called “Lone Star Trail,” which Crosby recorded later that year. It was her first sale.

Others quickly followed, and Ms. Walker was so successful that she remained in Los Angeles with Oree when her father’s business in town was done. As a handsome blonde with singing and dancing talent (she had performed for years in Texas), she soon had her own recording contract and was a pioneer in the proto-music videos called “soundies.” She shows a husky, jazzy and rather elegant voice on her sole hit as a singer, “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again” (not her composition, surprisingly). But songwriting was her calling, and she soon abandoned performing, returning to Texas in the mid-1950’s to be near family.

And there she stayed, except for regular trips to Nashville, New York and Los Angeles to sell her songs. Like a honky-tonk Marianne Moore, she lived most of her life with her mother, who died in 1991, and has led a very private life, the details of which remain sketchy, which seems to suit her fine. While most biographers note she has never married, Ms. Walker claims she did marry once. “But it was a short-lived marriage,” she said. “A very short-lived marriage.” She closes discussion on the topic with a long, hearty chuckle.

In the end, songs seem to be her preferred mode of expression. She quotes her own lyrics often during a conversation. After finding out about a death in a reporter’s family, she insists he hear Arnold’s recording of her poignant cowboy eulogy “Jim, I Wore a Tie Today,” even offering Arnold’s home phone number to request a copy.

The CD recalls “Stardust,” Mr. Nelson’s 1978 Tin Pan Alley set, also a career high point. But while the singer’s voice may be a tad less steady here, the material lies closer to his roots, the mix of Texas country, blues and jazz, of ballads and uptempo romps, a mirror of his impish, hybrid-minded character. It may in fact be the quintessential Willie Nelson album.

This disc aside and not counting the hard-to-find “Words and Music” and a recent tribute set by the former Wills vocalist Leon Rausch there are no proper documents of the breadth of Ms. Walker’s achievement. Fans might trawl eBay for a gray-market transcription of a seven-hour Cindy Walker radio special, broadcast in 1997 on the California freeform radio station KFJC. Or they might try assembling an MP3 playlist from tracks available on digital music services like iTunes or eMusic.

But they’ll have to play catch-up with a writer whose catalog is said to number over 500 songs and counting. And does Ms. Walker intend to return to writing when her health permits? “I sure do hope so, love,” she said. “I sure do hope so.”

Willie Nelson and Jackie King, “The Gypsy”

Sunday, May 10th, 2020

The Gypsy
Released:  May 8, 2001

1. The Gypsy
2. The Nearness Of You
3. Heart Of A Clown
4. Once In Awhile
5. Jealous Heart
6. Back Home In Indiana
7. My Window Faces The South
8. Cherokee
9. San Antonio Rose
10. Lover Come Back To Me

This day in Willie Nelson history: “Always on My Mind” #1 (May 8, 1982)

Friday, May 8th, 2020

On May 8, 1982, Willie Nelson’s “Always On My Mind” reached #1 on the Billboard country chart.

In 1983, Willie Nelson wins Best Country Vocal Performance for ‘Always On My Mind. The song won three times during the 25th annual Grammy awards including awards for songwriters Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher and Mark James earn Song of the Year.

Track listing

  1. “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”
  2. “Always on My Mind”
  3. “A Whiter Shade of Pale”
  4. “Let It Be Me”
  5. “Staring Each Other Down”
  6. “Bridge over Troubled Water”
  7. “Old Fords and a Natural Stone”
  8. “Permanently Lonely”
  9. “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning”
  10. “The Party’s Over”

2003 re-release bonus tracks

  1. “The Man Who Owes Everyone”
  2. “I’m a Memory”

“First Rose of Spring” available July 3, 2020

Sunday, May 3rd, 2020

Red Headed Stranger on Vinyl available from Barnes & Noble

Sunday, May 3rd, 2020

Willie Nelson’s albums, ranked

Wednesday, April 29th, 2020

By: David Courtney, Michael Hall, Rich Kienzle, Max Marshall, Joe Nick Patoski, John Spong, Christian Wallace

Willie Nelson may be the most important figure in country music history; if he’s not, only Hank Williams matters more. Willie’s also one of the most important musical artists in American history, a first-name-only giant like Elvis and Ella. The contours of the career that brought him to those heights are familiar. There was the huge, early-sixties success writing songs like “Crazy” and “Hello Walls” for big country stars, then the failed attempt to become one himself over the rest of the decade, his talents an ill fit for a stiff Nashville mold. There was his earthy rebirth in Austin in the seventies, when he started playing by his own rules and helped invent the outlaw subgenre that made country cool for a younger, rock-bred audience.

He grew that appeal worldwide with the pop mega-stardom that came in the eighties, and then, in the three decades that have followed—right up to today—he’s done pretty much whatever he’s wanted, as often as he’s wanted, which has been extremely often. He’s recorded hard-core country, western swing, gospel, flamenco, full-on orchestra, small-combo jazz, and solo acoustic music. He’s collaborated with everyone from Waylon Jennings to Bob Dylan to Carlos Santana to Mavis Staples to Steven Tyler to Snoop, which is a laughably small sampling of his many duet partners. And through it all, he has made his way by staying true to himself.

It’s a remarkable story, a meaningful inspiration for millions of fans, a great thing to think about when you listen to Red Headed Stranger. But like a bad biopic, the story is oversimplified. For one thing, it creates blind spots. Many fans tend to think that Willie’s early Nashville-sound records aren’t worth a listen because he hadn’t grown his hair out yet. Some people assume that his collaborations with lesser-known artists must be of lesser quality; that his pro-weed songs of the 2010s—“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” and “It’s All Going to Pot”—must be novelties, that his 2005 reggae album, Countryman, must be a bad idea from beginning to end. So they don’t give those records a chance. Then there’s the matter of the sheer amount of music he’s released. He cut his first tracks in 1954; his latest album, First Rose of Spring, is due in July, and he seldom slowed down in the 66 years in between. A fan might feel justified in thinking that the ten Willie albums they already own are all the Willie they need.

Late last summer, Texas Monthly set out to right the record. Our plan was to listen to, rank, and review every Willie album. The first step alone was a monster; just identifying every album was a massive undertaking. We excluded bootlegs and collections made up exclusively of previously released material—no greatest hits records—and still the number we arrived at was staggering: 143 distinct, proper albums. We also formed the Committee, a group of fourteen knowledgeable fans—including Willie biographer Joe Nick Patoski, noted country historian Rich Kienzle, and songwriters Robert Earl Keen, Jack Ingram, and Bruce and Charlie Robison—who contributed ranked lists of their favorite records. A byzantine scoring system was devised, and then a smaller group—the writers with bylines below—started assigning points to records. Finally, after months of phone calls, email threads, and one long, often heated summit meeting in January, we arrived at this list.

There were many debates throughout the process, but one bears retelling. When I asked Austin songwriter Monte Warden to participate, I used the phrase “worst-to-first” to describe the project. He shot back fast. “Excuse me,” he said, “we don’t use the word ‘worst’ when we talk about Willie.” The line was funny, but it proved true. Think about it: The Beatles built their legacy on a mere thirteen albums, not all of which are beloved. But the Willie album that comes in fourteenth on this list is a lot of people’s favorite. The album that comes in fifty-first is one of mine. Even the hundredth album is pretty darn good. And that’s the list’s big revelation: almost every Willie album has something to recommend it, a song or two, or a story about how it was made, that gives distinct insight into Willie and his art. After all, the only way to really know Willie is to listen to his music. And there’s plenty of it that you haven’t heard yet. –J.S.

Read the list here, on