Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

Dwight Yoakam and Robert Earl Keen play before Willie Nelson & Family Show Rained out in KC Saturday

Monday, June 19th, 2017

photo:  Susan Pfannmuller
by:  Bill Brownlee

A severe storm forced a dream triple bill of Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam and Robert Earl Keen at Starlight Theatre on Saturday to remain an elusive fantasy. The deluge that followed sets by Yoakam and Keen led to the cancellation of the country legend’s headlining appearance.

While many in the audience of almost 8,000 received a thorough soaking before Nelson’s portion of the concert was called off, the venue was almost full for appearances by Yoakam and Keen.

Yoakam still wears the skintight jeans and cowboy hat that turned heads when his debut release “Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.” topped the country albums chart in 1986, but the California-based artist was more committed to paying homage to his heroes than in assuming the role of a sex symbol. Yoakam has always been a dedicated revivalist — his first hit was a cover of the 1956 Johnny Horton song “Honky Tonk Man” — but Saturday’s outing was more like a tribute show than a showcase for his original material.

Supported his outstanding four-piece band, Yoakam opened with a muscular cover of Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie.” He paid homage to Elvis Presley with his hit version of the 1961 single “Little Sister” and dedicated “Streets of Bakersfield” to the late country star Buck Owens.

Heartfelt renditions of four Merle Haggard songs formed the core of the 50-minute set. A gentle translation of “Silver Wings” elicited appreciative sighs while plaintive pedal steel guitar solos bolstered “”Swinging Doors” and “Mama Tried.” Yoakam spoke at length about “Okie From Muskogee” before playing the controversial song. Recalling that Haggard had told him the hit was intended to be “tongue in cheek,” Yoakam implied that the societal rifts that made the song resonate in 1969 are just as prevalent today.

An ongoing flurry of anxious activity on the fringes of the stage repeatedly distracted Yoakam. A cover of Nelson’s “Me and Paul” was cut short when Yoakam said that someone backstage was displeased with the selection. The misconstrued signals of a stagehand also contributed to a couple false starts.

Keen and his six-piece backing band spent an hour re-creating his beloved Texas roadhouse songs like “The Road Goes On Forever” and “Gringo Honeymoon” with the admirable efficiency of jukebox. The raggedness of Keen’s unvarnished bray was offset by stellar fiddle and mandolin accents. While the rainout of Nelson was disappointing, Keen’s fans took it stride. They know that the motto of Keen’s signature song applies to the career of the octogenarian country legend: “the road goes on forever and the party never ends.”

Dwight Yoakam set list: Little Queenie; Please, Please Baby; Little Sister; Streets of Bakersfield; Silver Wings; Swinging Doors; Mama Tried; Okie From Muskogee; Me and Paul; It Won’t Hurt; I’ll Be Gone; Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose; Honky Tonk Man; A Thousand Miles From Nowhere; Guitars, Cadillacs.

Robert Earl Keen set list: I’ll Go On Downtown; What I Really Mean; Feelin’ Good Again; Gringo Honeymoon; Shades of Gray; Ride; I Gotta Go; Dreadful Selfish Crime; I Know You Rider; I’m Comin’ Home; The Road Goes On Forever.

Willie Nelson & Family at Ravinia Festival (June 17, 2017)

Sunday, June 18th, 2017


photo and story by Dan Garcia

Willie Nelson was on the road again last night, as the legendary country singer brought his band and family to the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL, just 20 miles north of Chicago. Supported by his son, Lukas Nelson as his band, Promise of the Real, the 84-year-old Nelson delivered a memorable performance to the packed crowd, bringing a bit of Texas to the Windy City.

Up first for the night was Lukas Nelson & the Promise of the Real, who just finished a big performance at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. With Lukas, growing up with Willie Nelson as his dad, and Promise of the Real who have toured with Lukas for years, as well as the amazing Neil Young, the opening performers were more than prepared to get the night started on a high note.

Jamming out to tracks like ‘Four Leter Word’, Find Yourself’, ‘Carolina’, Nelson’s hometown dedicated ‘Just Outside of Austin’ and more, Lukas Nelson gave the Ravinia crowd a half hour of great tunes. Highlights of Lukas Nelson’s set included his many guitar solos, as well as his performance of ‘(Forget About) Georgia’, Nelson’s ode to an ex-girlfriend. Lukas ended his set with a huge minute-long guitar solo to ‘Set Me Down on a Cloud’, with his hair flying every which direction and the crowd giving Willie’s kin a big standing ovation.

As crew finished preparing for the man of the night, the lights turned up in the pavilion and Willie came out to a great the crowd of thousands, who rose to their feet as Willie began his performance. Backed by his loyal band, as well as members of his family, including his (2-year older) “little sister Bonnie” and son Lukas who returned to the stage, Willie was in great company from start to finish. Nelson was also joined by one of his most loyal companions, his beat up Martin N-20 nylon-string acoustic guitar, “Trigger”. And while the guitar looks older than Willie himself, who proves that 84 is the new 50, it still can put on a great show.

Nelson kicked things off with his 1973 track, ‘Whisky River’, a fan favorite and Grammy-nominated classic perfectly tailored to begin a memorable performance. Following with his 1993 ‘Still Is Still Moving To Me’ and his 2002 Toby Keith collab ‘Beer For My Horses’, Nelson performed a number of hits from his entire catalog of tracks that cover over a half a decade.

One of the first big highlight’s of Nelson’s set included his and Lukas’ cover of ‘Texas Flood’, where Lukas took over the vocals and father and son closed out the song by trading guitar solos. Instantly Willie continued the momentum with the classic, ‘Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys’, but as Willie was rocking his cowboy hat in front of a huge flag from the Lone Star State, he encourages us to do as he says, and not as he does.

No Willie Nelson set would be complete without a couple entertaining dedications to Mary Jane, and tonight fans were treated to tracks like ‘It’s All Going To Pot’ and ‘Roll Me Up’, where Nelson lays out his desires to be smoked in a joint when he passes away.  And although Nelson is in his 80’s, touring the country keeps him young and he reminded the Ravinia crowd he’s still alive and kicking and won’t be “rolled up” anytime soon, with his track ‘Still Not Dead’, his 2017 response to the various death rumors that have surrounded his name.

From his Hank Williams cover, ‘Jambalaya on the Bayou’, his performance of ‘Georgia On My Mind’, to his encore of ‘Uncloudy Day’, Willie Nelson and company gave Highland Park a night that they will not soon forget.

Set List

Whisky River
Still Is Still Moving To Me
Beer For My Horses
Good Hearted Woman
Funny How Time Slips Away
Night Life
Texas Flood
Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys
Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground
On The Road Again
Always On My Mind
Shoeshine Man
It’s All Going To Pot
Georgie On My Mind
Jambalaya on the Bayou
Roll Me Up
I’ll Fly Away
I Saw The Light
Still Not Dead
Uncloudy Day

Willie Nelson & Family at the Pinewood Bowl in Lincoln (6/7/2017)

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

photo:  Kevin Coffey
by: Kevin Coffey

LINCOLN — Willie Nelson is still at it.

Or as he’d say, “still not dead.” And the pace of the 84-year-old country legend “would kill a normal man.”
Wednesday’s sold-out show at the Pinewood Bowl Theater showed good old Willie’s still got it as he played late into the night, well past his typical set time.

The capacity crowd was game, singing the chorus to “On the Road Again” and diving to nab one of the signature red bandanas he pulled from his head and tossed into the audience.

Nelson’s set capped a night of fantastic, classic country music with sets from both Robert Earl Keen and Dwight Yoakam.

Coffey: Long, lively Willie Nelson set, Yoakam highlight one of best country shows I’ve seen | Music |

A Texas country songwriter, Keen and his band played an hour full of songs such as “Feelin” Good Again,” “Gringo Honeymoon” and “The Road Goes On Forever.”They’re excellent country songs that aren’t exactly smash hits but may be familiar to country fans. They should be familiar with everyone.

A Kentucky boy by way of California, Yoakam once again delivered a set similarly full of honky tonk filtered through Hollywood.

Yoakam ran through a set that included tributes to Merle Haggard and covers of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley as well as his own hits such as “1,000 Miles,” “Guitars, Cadillacs” and “Fast As You.”

You can’t go wrong with Yoakam even if, like me, you’ve seen him several times. The singer and his band are always incredible.

Keen, Yoakam and Nelson all mentioned how happy they were to be together on the bill, which is one of the best I’ve seen on a country show.

“It’s nice to be out here with Willie,” Yoakam said. “Thank you very much for coming out and hanging out with Robert Earl and myself.”

Yoakam even played a few bars of Nelson’s “Me and Paul” before joking that he didn’t want to get fired for doing so.

Nelson must have enjoyed the joke because he played “Me and Paul,” a song he hasn’t played recently, during his own set.

As he picked out melodies in his signature, enigmatic style on his trusty guitar Trigger, Nelson led his longtime band through a series of his classic songs as well as lots of covers and tributes to Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver, Tom T. Hall and Hank Williams.

Those tunes plus “Whiskey River”, “Beer For My Horses,” “Always On My Mind” and others are classic country, and Nelson performed them admirably.

Even Keen and Yoakam enjoyed themselves.

As he kicked off a finale with “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” the pair of fellow country stars joined him to close out the show.

None of them could quit smiling.

Willie Nelson, “God’s Problem Child”

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

1. Little House On The Hill (Lyndel Rhodes)
2. Old Timer (Donnie Fritz / Lenny LeBlanc)
3. True Love (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
4. Delete And Fast Forward (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
5. A Woman’s Love (Mike Reid / Sam Hunter)
6. Your Memory Has A Mind Of Its Own (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
7. Butterfly (Sonny Throckmorton / Mark Sherrill)
8. Still Not Dead (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
9. God’s Problem Child (Jamey Johnson / Tony Joe White)
10. It Gets Easier (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
11. Lady Luck (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
12. I Made A Mistake (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
13. He Won’t Ever Be Gone (Gary Nicholson)

The latest album from a classic artist and the revisiting of a classic album by a contemporary act are in the Ear Bliss spotlight this week. Now in his 80s, we should all be blessed with the health and work ethic of Willie Nelson. He tours endlessly and continues to release at least one album every year. His latest called God’s Problem Child is Willie to the bone (no pun intended!) and continues his collaboration with the legendary Nashville producer Buddy Cannon.

Willie Nelson
God’s Problem Child
Sony Legacy Recordings

Having just hit the age of 84, Willie Nelson shows no signs of slowing down from both the recording and touring perspectives. As his latest album called God’s Problem Child attests, he is also not just mailing it in. His first album of new songs since 2014’s Band of Brothers, the Red-Headed Stranger is both in fine voice and picking his old guitar Trigger as good as ever. The album finds him teaming up once again with longtime collaborator and legendary Nashville-based producer Buddy Cannon. (In addition to producing, Cannon is also credited as co-writer on seven of the album’s 13 songs.) Ever the restless one when it comes to style, God’s Problem Child is Nelson’s usual highly listenable brew of country, swing, jazz, and even the blues. The latter is exemplified by the title track written by Jamey Johnson and Tony Joe White, a laid back number that includes vocals by both writers along with the late Leon Russell on what just may be his final recording. It’s punctuated by some fine blues guitar picking by Willie himself. It’s just one of many moments from an album filled with them that begins with the “Whiskey River” styled ramblin’ country of “On the Hill” and closes with a tribute to Merle Haggard (“He Won’t Ever Be Gone”). In between it moves from Willie pondering his own mortality in both serious  (“Old Timer”) and humorous (“Still Not Dead” on which Nelson sings “I woke again still not dead gain today” fashions, not to mention the aging process (“It Gets Easier” and “Your Memory Has a Mind of Its Own”).  Speaking frankly, you just can’t wrong with a Willie Nelson album and God’s Problem Child is yet another keeper. Visit

Old Crow Medicine Show
50 Years of Blonde on Blonde
Columbia Records

It has been 50 years since the release of the album Blonde on Blonde. Ask someone to pick their favorite Bob Dylan album and no doubt it will be in the running. The country and roots collective Old Crow Medicine Show burst on the Americana scene in the late aughts thanks to a cover of a relatively obscure Dylan song called “Wagon Wheel.” It helped establish them as one of the leaders of the Americana genre. The group takes the Dylan thing up another notch with its newly released recreation of the Dylan classic. 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde salutes that classic album while also doubling as the band’s major label debut. Let’s get to it.


Willie Nelson & Family in Lincoln

Thursday, June 1st, 2017
by: L. Kent Wolgamott

Thirty years ago, before we had answering machines on our desk phones, we newsroom denizens answered the ringing phones on nearby desks and took messages.

One mid-September afternoon, my phone was ringing off the hook. An AP reporter who happened to be walking by, picked it up and got a shock — it was Willie Nelson calling, out of the blue.

He wanted an update on Farm Aid III that was set to happen at Memorial Stadium a week later. He knew about how things were going on the production side of things — what he wanted from me was a sense of how it was being received and how many people would turn up.

My response, as I recall now, was that people were pretty excited and it would sell out.

My predictive skills were pretty close — the concert sold 69,000 of 70,000 available tickets (1,000 tickets held for day of show didn’t sell) and is still the biggest concert in Nebraska history and very likely always will be.

There’ll be a lot fewer people at Pinewood Bowl Wednesday night, when Willie comes back to Lincoln bringing Dwight Yoakam and Robert Earl Keen along with him.

That show is nearly sold out and will bring about 4,500 to Pioneers Park to catch the now 84-year-old legend.

Over the years, Willie’s played nearly every Lincoln venue of any size — the Bob Devaney Sports Center, Pershing Center, the Ice Box and Haymarket Park.

That said, it’s been a good while since Willie played Lincoln. Scrolling through the Journal Star;s online archive the last Nelson show I found here was at Haymarket Park in 2004 — along with Bob Dylan.

Since then, I’ve caught Willie and his great band, Family, at the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island, in Omaha two or three times and in Austin, Texas, during South By Southwest.

I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen him — well over a dozen for sure. He’s the country artist I’ve seen the most — and up there with The Replacements, Bob Dylan and The Hold Steady among all artists.

He’s also, well, Willie.

In my encounters with him since the late ’70s on his bus, sitting in a dressing room, in a bar, on the phone for more than an hour (Willie knows more dirty jokes than any human on earth) or standing on the 50-yard-line at Memorial Stadium, he’s always been the same guy — the hillbilly Dalai Lama.

Full of wisdom, humor and, as the pre-Farm Aid call demonstrated, always aware of his fans and his personal impact and that of his music, Willie’s a rightfully beloved, known-by-his-first-name, hard-working national treasure.

With most of his peers either retired or gone, Willie’s still on the road — two weeks on, two weeks off — and he’ll be leading a traveling festival later this summer. Plus, he’s, of late, been cranking out two albums a year.

In April, he marked his birthday with the release of “God’s Problem Child,” one of his best records in years that includes “Still Not Dead,” a rebuff to the constant internet rumors of his passing that’s pure Willie through and through:

“I run and down the road making music as I go

They say my pace would kill a normal man

But I’ve never been accused of being normal anyway

And I woke up still not dead again today.”

See you Wednesday, Willie.

FACT CHECK: Willie Nelson Dead? (

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

Claim: Country star Willie Nelson has died.

Claimed by: Internet

Fact check by FALSE

Breaking News! Willie Nelson “Woke Up Still Not Dead Again Today”

Saturday, May 20th, 2017
Did Willie Nelson die? It looks like another death hoax might have struck the iconic country singer and totally had everyone in a state of panic! Is he okay?

Everyone breath a sigh of relief! Willie Nelson, 84, was the latest celebrity to fall victim to those zany death hoaxes. People started to freak out when an old rumor from Snopes reported that the country music legend had tragically passed away. Thankfully the rumors don’t appear to be true and Willie is okay.

Willie’s excellent reflection on a life well lived: God’s Problem Child

Saturday, May 6th, 2017
by:  Lee Zimmerman

You would think that at the ripe old age of 84 — an age that would find most people taking full advantage of retirement and the security of home and hearth — Willie Nelson would see fit to rest comfortably on his laurels and focus entirely on his golf game. Indeed, given his prodigious output — over 60 studio albums, scores of standards, films, books, touring and activism — there might be ample reason to believe his creative wellspring had been dried of inspiration as well as any ambition.

Yet, here he is back with another superb studio effort, one that measures up to the high bar set early on with Red Headed Stranger, Shotgun Willie, Stardust and the countless other albums that set the standard, not only for his contemporaries but for generations of country crossover artists who followed in his wake. “As we get older It gets easier to say not today,” Willie remarks in “It Gets Easier,” a song that describes the reluctance and resignation that confronts so many people as they ease into the sunset of their later lives.

Fortunately then, as evidenced by the baker’s dozen songs that inhabit God’ s Problem Child, Willie has no intention of giving in to concession or defeat. He makes a mockery of his own mortality on “Still Not Dead” and parodies his eccentric image on the title track. “I’m a lot like ol’ Ripley On believe it or not,” he sings on “I Made a Mistake,” belying the fact that he’s obviously doing everything right to be doing what he’s doing at this age.

In truth, God’ s Problem Child could be seen as a reflection on a life well spent (“You had your run and it’s been a good one” he sings on the otherwise weary “Old Timer”), but with plenty of frayed edges to ruminate on as well. While “He Won’t Ever Be Gone” is obviously intended as eulogy to friends long gone — Cash, Jennings, Ray Price and the like — it could also be seen as a living testament to Nelson himself. Happily, he’s still with us, but there’s no doubt that when that day comes when he’s called away to that great touring bus in the sky, his remarkable legacy will continue to live on. We should all be as fortunate.

New Willie Nelson Album, “God’s Problem Child”

Sunday, April 30th, 2017


1. Little House On The Hill (Lyndel Rhodes)
2. Old Timer (Donnie Fritz / Lenny LeBlanc)
3. True Love (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
4. Delete And Fast Forward (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
5. A Woman’s Love (Mike Reid / Sam Hunter)
6. Your Memory Has A Mind Of Its Own (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
7. Butterfly (Sonny Throckmorton / Mark Sherrill)
8. Still Not Dead (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
9. God’s Problem Child (Jamey Johnson / Tony Joe White)
10. It Gets Easier (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
11. Lady Luck (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
12. I Made A Mistake (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
13. He Won’t Ever Be Gone (Gary Nicholson)

Willie Nelson turns 84 Saturday and is, intentionally or not, marking that occasion with the release of “God’s Problem Child,” his best album in years.

Mixing seven of his own compositions/co-writes with five perfectly selected songs from other writers, Nelson’s created a late-life record that stands out from other such collections because, well, it’s songs from Willie.

That means there’s humor, road-rooted wisdom, a little faith and a lot of acceptance set in some graceful, smooth classic Nelson-style arrangements punctuated by his distinctive nylon-string guitar work with Mickey Raphael’s harmonica evocatively sliding in and out of the songs.

Nelson’s singing is up there with the best he’s put on record, his distinctive phrasing and soft but distinct vocalizing putting a touching heart into songs like the romantic “Butterfly.” He adds a worn understanding to “Lady Luck” and “I Made a Mistake” and a sly resignation to “Your Memory Has a Mind of Its Own.”

Humor comes on the wry, swinging “Still Not Dead,” one of the co-writes with producer Buddy Cannon, that takes off on internet rumors of his death, saying “Don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play/and I woke up still not dead today.”

Then there’s the title cut that features the late Leon Russell and vocals from its co-writers Tony Joe White and Jamey Johnson that embraces Nelson’s status as an outlaw country icon while “Old Timer” finds him still on the road.

“God’s Problem Child,” which opens with “Little House on the Hill,” an allegory for going to heaven, ends with “He Won’t Ever Be Gone,” a Gary Nicholson-penned tribute to Willie’s old running buddy Merle Haggard.

The superb album and the continual touring that will bring him to Pinewood Bowl in June show that Willie won’t ever be gone either. Grade: A

Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or

New Willie Nelson Album out today! “God’s Problem Child”

Friday, April 28th, 2017
Paste Review of the Day: Willie Nelson - <i>God's Problem Child</i>
by:  Holly Gleason

In a youth-obsessed world, God’s Problem Child flies in convention’s face. On the languishing title track, penned by Jamey Johnson and swamp rocker Tony Joe White, Willie Nelson enlists the song’s co-writers and Leon Russell to consider living on one’s own time and terms. Inhabiting the song as wizened elders who’ve stripped off false standards to find peace and redemption, they sound ragged and resolved as an acoustic blues guitar wrestles the melody on the bridge and Mickey Raphael’s harmonica rises like so much heat.

Turning 84 on April 29, Willie Nelson—like Tony Bennett—is one of pop culture’s few reining icons who remain creatively engaged. Beating Streisand for 2017’s Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album Grammy for Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin, the red headed stranger returns to more familiar territory on GPC. A consideration of aging, loss and engaging the world from that lived in perspective, it feels like Nelson’s personal state of the union.

Sifting the seeds and stems of lost love, disappointment and mortality, Nelson’s slightly out of time, note-stretching voice is porous, yet strong on the somber “True Love.” Belying the saccharine title, the spare arrangement moves beneath his clear-eyed assessment of how hard, yet wonderful, love is.

That theme also permeates the Spanish-leaning “A Woman’s Love,” slightly noir and fairly erotic, and the more straightforward country lope “Your Memory Has A Mind of Its Own.” For Nelson, romantic love remains the most powerful and elusive aspect of life no matter the age.

That honesty gives God’s Problem Child heft. Writing seven of the 13 songs with producer Buddy Cannon, known for his work from Vern Gosdin’s seminal Chiseled in Stone to Alison Krauss’ brand new Windy City, and curating the rest from friends, the cohesion suggests Nelson is clear-eyed about his place along this mortal coil. The largely gut string guitar, accordion and steel-drenched “It Gets Easier” is sublime straight country that seems an almost perfect wedding song. Perfect, until a closer listen reveals the superstar telling people “but not today.”

Inspired partially by Merle Haggard’s death, memorialized through Gary Nicholson’s “He Won’t Ever Be Gone” which considers Hag’s workingman’s truth, these dead-eye assessments of life near its end cut to the quick. Kris Kristofferson vet Donnie Fritts and Lenny LeBlanc provide an over-the-shoulder assessment on the lean “Old Timer,” while the jaunty mid-80s’s retro country “Little House on the Hill” provides a white picket fence bit of nostalgia from Cannon’s 92-year old mother Lyndel Rhodes.

All is not dour. The man who’s teamed with Snoop Dogg for “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” takes on political science and post-election peace of mind with “Delete and Fast Forward.” But the train-boogie, harmonica blast riveted “Still Not Dead” lets Nelson’s wit run free. Flicking off his advanced age and specific death hoax stories, Nelson sings, “The internet said I had passed away/If I died, I wasn’t dead to stay,” admonishing “the gardener didn’t find me that-a way” and urging, “please don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play.”

Nelson lives to play. Until he’s called home, it’s a safe bet the music is going to keep coming. If it’s the quality of God’s Problem Child, it will be as vital as anything he’s done.

New Willie Nelson album, “God’s Problem Child” (Rolling Stone Review)

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017
by:  Jeff Gage

Country’s ultimate survivor addresses mortality, both humorously and poignantly, on introspective new LP.

Listening to a new Willie Nelson album with a set of fresh ears is almost impossible to do in 2017 – and Nelson knows it. Hovering over all news regarding the Red Headed Stranger are worries about the health of the country icon, who turns 84 on April 29th. So he decided to make the elephant in the room – his own mortality – the focal point of his new LP, God’s Problem Child.


Nelson’s first album since his 2015 collaboration with Merle Haggard, Django & Jimmie – the Hag’s final album before his own death – God’s Problem Child is a stark, honest, sometimes bleak, and often funny look at mortality and the specter of his own death. It may not be a concept album, but that grim reality is writ large on nearly every song.

That doesn’t mean God’s Problem Child makes for heavy listening. Nelson brings not only his distinctive sense of humor to the proceedings, but also an appreciation for the moments that he has left, and those individual glimpses of beauty leave a lasting impression. Here’s our track-by-track guide to the new album, which arrives April 28th.

“Little House On the Hill” (Lyndel Rhodes)
The opening track on God’s Problem Child is its jauntiest, and also its most heartwarming, written by Lyndel Rhodes, the 92-year-old mother of Buddy Cannon, the producer and songwriter who co-wrote half the songs on the album. A video of a joyous Rhodes hearing Nelson sing her song for the first time went viral last fall, and the comforting memories of “Little House on the Hill,” a reimagining of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” carry an end-of-days undercurrent that sets the tone for the album.

“Old Timer” (Donnie Fritz/Lenny LeBlanc)
Nelson confronts those end of days head on in “Old Timer,” a mournful, piano-driven ballad that ruminates on the ravages of time – and how time is leaving Nelson behind. “You’ve had your run / and it’s been a good one,” goes the opening line, as though to console the listener before the bad news to come about the “old timer” who thinks he’s “still a young bull rider.” Nelson’s vocal – quivering and frail, thoughtful and proud – is the first of many stellar ones on the record, conveying every ounce of that life well lived.

“True Love” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Even on the cusp of his 84th birthday, Nelson remains a hopeless romantic. The first writing credit for the Red Headed Stranger on God’s Problem Child, “True Love” is his fire-and-brimstone vision of never giving up hope. But love alone is no salvation: “I’ll go to hell believing true love is still my friend,” he sings, his optimism both a blessing and a curse, his memories – and even his mortal coil – a “prison.” Hopeless, indeed.

“Delete and Fast Forward” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Much of God’s Problem Child focuses on the personal, but “Delete and Fast Forward” is Nelson’s bemused look at the political world around him, a winner-take-nothing appraisal of today’s mess in the White House. “The truth is the truth, but believe what you choose,” he sings, shrugging at the alternative facts that could make a mushroom cloud feel like a sordid punchline. But even if he’d rather get a fresh start and skip to the next scene, Nelson sees history repeating itself: “We had a chance to be brilliant and we blew it again,” he laments.

“A Woman’s Love” (Mike Reid/Sam Hunter)
Once again, Nelson’s own weathered voice is his greatest, most expressive tool on “A Woman’s Love,” the flip side to the tortured romantic visions of “True Love.” His singing is deep and gruff, conjuring the darkest, most sensual of passions. Accented by fragmented Spanish guitar lines and a wailing harmonica solo, “A Woman’s Love” is a love letter to womankind, but also a cautionary tale – Nelson’s most profound bit of wisdom to impart to his younger self.

“Your Memory Has a Mind” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
If your memory had ears they’d be burning,” Nelson sings on the bridge of this playful tune, which breaks from the heavy tone of God’s Problem Child‘ss other love songs. Yes, he might not be able to control those memories of the one that got away (even smoking and drinking won’t help), but there’s a comic relief in the tortured fate that he finds himself in: “If your memory had a heart, it’d leave me alone,” Nelson sings, knowing full well that it won’t.

“Butterfly” (Sonny Throckmorton/Mark Sherrill)
Coming at the midpoint of the album, this tender ballad by Sonny Throckmorton and Mark Sherrill, underpinned by noodling electric guitar work, turns Nelson’s eye away from his own life and toward that of the natural world. Yet, not exactly: As he ponders the beautiful butterfly flitting in and out of his view, Nelson is contemplating several things at once, like the delicacy and impenetrability of love or the fleeting nature of life itself.

“Still Not Dead” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Nelson has never been as darkly funny as he is on “Still Not Dead,” a song that he co-wrote with Cannon. Even the self-referential humor of 2012’s “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” has nothing on the caustic black comedy of this song, in which the Red Headed Stranger pokes fun at the constant rumors about his impending death – some, even, that he’s already kicked the bucket. “I woke up still not dead again today,” he croons, all but apologizing for the fact that the rumors aren’t true. Nelson, however, insists that he’s just too busy to die: “I’ve got a show to play.”

“God’s Problem Child” (Jamey Johnson/Tony Joe White)
Death may be something that Nelson can poke fun at, but it’s still no laughing matter – and the title track to God’s Problem Child drives that point home. It’s the only song with guest vocalists, with one coming from beyond the grave: “God’s Problem Child” is believed to be the final song that Leon Russell ever recorded before his death last November. Russell’s passing only adds more heft to this soulful track, which also features Jamey Johnson and Tony Joe White, and it marks a thematic turning point as the album heads into the closing stretch.

“It Gets Easier” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Several of the songs on God’s Problem Child have been premiered with black-and-white videos of Nelson performing them in the studio with his trusty guitar, Trigger. None, however, are as sweet, as plaintive, or defiant as “It Gets Easier,” the most simple and tender ballad on the album. “I don’t have to do one damn thing that I don’t want to do,” he insists, a man who’s learned to be completely comfortable in his own skin and live on his own terms. But there’s a catch: “Except for missing you / and that won’t go away.”

“Lady Luck” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Life is a fickle thing, and few people appreciate that more than Nelson. With each passing year, he becomes more of a last man standing as more of his friends and partners in crime pass away. Whatever the reason, Nelson is the outlaw who gets to ride off into the sunset. Waylon, Merle, Leon – their luck all ran out before his, and Nelson is pretty sure Lady Luck is on his side. “I’ll bet you a hundred, if you still got a hundred,” he sings, ready to lay his fortune on the line one more time. It’s all or nothing.

“I Made a Mistake” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Steel guitar dominates this benediction of a tune, in which Nelson looks back on a life of living by his own rules and admits he may not have done everything right. “I made a mistake: I thought I was wrong,” goes his repentance. He name-checks Jesus, Elvis and Ripley (of Believe It or Not! fame) in the chorus, trying to rationalize his behavior to each, but in the end, he knows his stumbles are all his own. “So if anyone’s praying, a request I would make / is to mention my name, cause I made a mistake.”

“He Won’t Ever Be Gone” (Gary Nicholson)
God’s Problem Child saves its most heartbreaking song for last: Nelson’s tribute to his best friend, Merle Haggard. “Got the news this morning / Knew it’d be a tough day,” goes the opening couplet, as Nelson recalls hearing word of Hag’s death on April 6th, 2016. “He Won’t Ever Be Gone” chronicles the pair’s friendship while mixing in references to Haggard’s best-known songs, but it’s really a shared story involving two giants. As with most of the album, the emotional core of the song, written by Gary Nicholson, lies in what isn’t said — that while Lady Luck may have smiled on Nelson, he misses his larger-than-life friends. After all, even giants are mortal.

The Grateful Dead with Special Guests Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson (Meadowlands) (September 2, 1978

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Willie Nelson confirms rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

The rumors of Willie Nelson’s imminent demise have been exaggerated, his publicist says, disputing reports the country music icon is on death’s door.

“He’s perfectly fine,” Elaine Schock told the Associated Press on Wednesday, attempting to finally shut down rumors sparked by a March 13 Radar Online story that described the 83-year-old as “deathly ill” and said his lungs weren’t strong enough to perform.

A “bad cold”  forced Nelson to cancel several shows in January and February, but he was back onstage by Feb. 16, when he played at a San Antonio rodeo. And last week he performed at a Houston stadiumfor 75,000 fans, where he appeared to be in good health and had no problems singing.

Wllie Nelson has played nearly a dozen shows in recent weeks and is not deathly ill, his publicist said, despite a series of reports claiming the country music legend is struggling to breathe.

A March 13 Radar Online report quoted an anonymous source saying Nelson was “deathly ill,” weak as a baby and unable to muster the breath to sing. The story is the basis for reports shared by other websites, including and

Elaine Schock, Nelson’s publicist, denied the reports and pointed to his performances at concerts in recent weeks as evidence of the singer’s health.

Nelson’s death has been erroneously reported so many times that he addresses the problem on his new album, God’s Problem Child, due in April.

A sample lyric from Still Not Dead: “The Internet said I had passed away, but you can’t believe a damn thing that they say.”

Luck Reunion 2017

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

story and photo:  Geoffrey Hines

For this series, we’ll be following Paste’s own Curmudgeon, Geoffrey Himes, as he sets out on a massive road trip across the South, exploring musical landmarks, traditions and history along the way. Tenth stop: Spicewood, Texas.

Willie Nelson  turns 84 next month. Having wrestled with pneumonia and emphysema in recent years, mortality seems to be on his mind. But in typical fashion, Nelson refuses to dodge the topic; instead he faces it down with two of the funniest songs he’s written in recent years.

He sang them both at the fifth annual Luck Reunion, a music festival held on Nelson’s ranch in Spicewood, Texas, 45 minutes northwest of Austin, near the Pedernales River. The event is always scheduled during South by Southwest to take advantage of all the talent that’s in Central Texas that week, and the ranch’s pastoral surroundings provide a welcome respite from SXSW and the mobs on Sixth Street.

Nelson bought the ranch with the money from his first few platinum albums, and when he decided to turn one of those records, 1975’s Red Headed Stranger, into the 1986 movie of the same name, he built the sets for an Old West town right there on his spread. Nelson left the buildings—a chapel, a town hall, a saloon/hotel and a barn—standing and called it Luck, Texas, a fictional 1880 town seemingly preserved in a time capsule.

The newer song Nelson played that day is called “I Woke Up Still Not Dead Again Today,” a jaunty response to “the internet” that “said I had passed away.” His profile shining in the overhead lights, he delivered the lines not with anger nor with a laugh, but in the same deadpan that he brings to every song: “Up and down the road / making music as I go / they say this pace would kill a normal man / I’ve never been accused of being normal anyway / and I woke up still not dead again today.”

If the pace should ever kill him, though, Nelson has already made his funeral arrangements, and he announced them in the form of another song. “Roll me up and smoke me when I die,” he sang, with his two sons, Lukas and Micah, close enough to memorize the instructions. “Call my friends and tell ‘em / ‘There’s a party, come on by.’ / Roll me up and smoke me when I die.”

These were two of the last four songs of a long day at the ranch; they bracketed a medley of two other end-of-life hymns: the more traditional “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away.” As funny as the two original songs were, they also a brave declaration that the singer would not live his life any less fully than he ever had just because illnesses and advancing age were stalking him. He seemed to be heeding the poet Dylan Thomas’s advice: “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Nelson’s phrasing is still superb and his willingness to climb out on a limb during a jazzy acoustic-guitar solo is still a wonder to behold.

And his continuing interest in new music was reflected in the smart programming for the four-stage festival. Rather than relying too heavily on his old peers, Nelson and his cohorts booked some of the brightest young talents in Americana: Valerie June, Margo Price, Parker Millsap, Conor Oberst and Aaron Lee Tasjan.

Read entire article here.

Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion 2017

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017
by:  Christian Wallace

To get to Willie Nelson’s ranch from Austin, you head west on Texas Highway 71, slowly leaving the glass-paneled skyscrapers and SXSW traffic behind for the limestone hills that give this part of the state its name. Just past Sweetwater, a “master planned community” of look-alike McMansions and sparkling pools, you veer north on a county road toward the Colorado River. Bluebonnets blanket the ground here in solid bands, and paint horses graze in grass pastures. Though it’s only thirty miles from the granite dome of the Capitol, by the time you hook a right on the dirt path that leads to Willie’s home, Austin seems like a distant memory.

The Luck Reunion is a one-day music festival held every year on the ranch as a companion to—or, perhaps, a reprieve from—SXSW. Although this year marked the sixth anniversary of the event, Thursday was my first visit to Willie’s legendary property. When I arrived in the early afternoon with my fiancée, Lauren, a security guard in the parking area pointed out a green tin roof one hill to the south. “That over yonder’s Willie’s place,” he informed us. Only then did I fully understand that I was standing in Willie’s backyard. I had the feeling that a long pilgrimage had just come to an end, one I hadn’t even realized I was undertaking.

We entered the little “town” of Luck where the music was already underway. Originally constructed for the 1986 film, Red Headed Stranger, the miniature village still feels like stepping onto the set of a western movie. Luck was buzzing with a diverse crowd of Willie devotees: tattooed hipsters in short brim Stetsons, crop-topped girls in long flowing skirts, retirees rocking faux pigtails. Mixed among the sea of denim and bolo ties were tweed blazers and dickie bows. Several women were dressed—for reasons unknown to me—as train conductors, complete with pinstripe cap.

I made my way to the Revival Tent to watch Paul Cauthen sing with the Texas Gentlemen, a revolving cast of Dallas-based musicians who were serving as the house band. Cauthen’s brand of outlaw-inspired, gospel-tinged country, anchored by his powerful baritone, was a good start to the day. I stuck around to hear Ray Benson, who had celebrated his sixty-sixth birthday a couple nights before at a big bash in Austin. Nelson had shown up as the special guest, and Benson praised his longtime running buddy. He ended with a blistering version of “Boogie Back to Texas” that nearly caught the canvas tent on fire.

“We are so blessed in this state,” Ryan Ake, one of the Gents, said as Benson exited the stage and Ray Wylie Hubbard came on to take his place. The Gentlemen moved effortlessly from Benson’s western swing to Hubbard’s lowdown talkin’ blues. During “Snake Farm” Hubbard was accompanied by his son Lucas, as well as three-fourths of the Trishas.

En route to procure a cup of complimentary booze, I met Wes Wammer, who had driven the Gibson Guitars charter bus down from Nashville. The bus driver told me he spent ten years on the road with Sabbath, and affectionately spoke of Ozzy and bassist Geezer Butler. Wammer also mentioned he’d known Waylon Jennings, and that he was himself a songwriter. I asked him which of Willie’s albums had been the most meaningful to him. “Red Headed Stranger changed country music,” he said. “I still play it. If I have a moment to myself, I’ll put it on the turntable. It’s relaxing, and yet it’s also energizing. That album had a huge influence on artists, especially songwriters.”

On the main World Headquarters stage, Valerie June sparkled in a red sequined dress as she worked through several tracks from her recently released second album, The Order of Time. June seemed more comfortable performing the new material than she had a few weeks earlier when she headlined at the Paramount Theatre in Austin. “I get the blues,” she said in her thick Tennessean twang between songs. “They visit me often. I had ’em last night. But the blues ain’t meant to be sad.” She flashed a grin and with a lilting vibrato launched into the first lines of “Astral Plane.” The ethereal lullaby was fitting for this gathering. The crowd swayed rhythmically, while further from the stage families sprawled on blankets in the grass. A couple of curly-haired kids read Shel Silverstein while their parents closed their eyes and listened.

In the VIP area, the scene was equally mellow, though slightly more surreal, as artists and special guests chatted under disco balls hanging from the branches of tall live oaks. Musician Charley Crockett strutted by in a tan suit, his hat cocked to one side and looking like Jett Rink after his well came in. One of the festival’s main acts, Aaron Lee Tasjan, played an acoustic porch session also sporting a glittering black and white ensemble he bedazzled himself.

Not dressed in formalwear, for once, was Bob Schieffer. The veteran CBS News contributor had ditched his anchorman outfit for Wranglers, cowboy boots, and a belt with his last name tattooed on the leather. He looked almost rugged with white whiskers smattered across his typically clean-shaven cheeks and tufts of hair peeking out from his TCU ball cap. “I’m not sure Willie’s not at the peak of his powers right now,” Schieffer told me. “He’s writing great songs. He’s touring. He’s selling a lot of records. He’s selling tickets. I think his sway is probably as great as it’s ever been.” When I asked Schieffer if he had a favorite Willie song, he cited two of Nelson’s earliest songwriting hits (“Hello Walls” and “Night Life”), then proceeded to quote a couplet verbatim from a song off God’s Problem Child, which doesn’t come out until April.

At 80, Schieffer was on the senior end of the festival attendees, though he pointed out that he was still three years younger than Willie. “There was a guy here last night who was 93 years old, and he’s a Willie groupie,” Schieffer said. “People of all ages are here today, and they all like Willie’s music.”

Another media stalwart lounging in this area was Jim Ferguson, the man who brought us the immortal slogan, “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” He regaled folks with tales of life in seventies Lubbock, like when Terry Allen premiered Lubbock (On Everything) at the original Stubb’s barbecue shack, or that time the Clash went with Joe Ely to pay their respects to Buddy Holly. (Joe Strummer, the band’s late frontman, supposedly laid on Holly’s grave that night and begged the rock legend, “Enter my soul!”)

Ferguson was posted up next to media newcomer Weed and Whiskey TV. All day bands filed in and out of the fledgling channel’s Airstream trailer to give interviews or play a couple of songs for what will be released as four-minute, twenty-second videos. Besides the music-themed programming, other categories on Weed and Whiskey will include “Club Cannabis Comedy,”“History Written in Stoned,” and “Higher than Space” (the business card I was given features two aliens blowing lava lamp-green smoke).  The channel will make its debut on, you guessed it, April 20.

Jerry Joyner, Weed and Whiskey TV’s founder, refers to Nelson as “the Dalai Lama of Texas” and credits his first Luck Reunion as the motivation behind his foray into the entertainment industry. “I’ve been smoking cannabis for forty years,” Joyner said. “For thirty-eight of those years, I didn’t want anybody to know. Now I’m open about it. Willie was an inspiration in the sense that he said, ‘Look, I do a hundred fifty shows a year, and I enjoy this plant.’ He’s been instrumental in helping people understand that cannabis isn’t just for stoners. That it can be an alternative to things that aren’t as good for us. That’s what Willie means to me.”

Back on the main stage, country royalty Margo Price proved she’s more than one of Nashville’s finest lyricists. Her raucous set was a highlight of the day, electrified by ample doses of honky-tonk piano and steel guitar that had the blissed-out crowd boogying—or at least enthusiastically swaying—to the beat.

Shovels & Rope picked up where Price left off with their perfectly in-sync country rock and roll. The sky had been overcast most of the day, but by six when the husband and wife duo closed with the barnburner “Birmingham,” the heavy gray had cleared. The last few wisps of clouds glowed pink and gold as the sun sank behind the hills.

Exploring Luck further, I found that the festival offered more than the standard merch tables. Outside the post office a woman stitched Willie’s Reserve (Nelson’s pot company) patches on jackets and satchels. I overheard one guy waiting to have the Texas-shaped patch sewn onto his bag say, “I don’t smoke, but I love Willie and I love Texas.” In the tannery, Odin Clack of Odin’s Leather Goods tooled designs into scraps of tanned hide, while festival-goers imprinted their initials into give-away leather luggage tags. Vendors inside a round corral made from rough-hewn cedar posts hawked vinyl records and vintage threads.

No matter where I went, music was omnipresent. A line snaked out the door of the wood-paneled chapel where artists such as Lillie Mae and Langhorne Slim played to a few dozen fans. Festival attendees strummed mandolins, guitars, or ukuleles borrowed from the Pick N Play wall. When I ducked into the opry house/saloon, a denim-clad singer not listed on the official schedule was performing cowboy songs such as “The Old Chisholm Trail” in front of an American flag.

As someone who grew up fantasizing about the Willie Picnics of yore, I had the sense that this might be the closest I’d come to experiencing those fabled gathering of cosmic cowboys. It was certainly closer to what I had imagined than the dusty Fourth of July Picnic I attended a few years back at Billy Bob’s, where the vibe felt manufactured and David Allan Coe performed a set so bad that it sounded like he was playing from the deep end of a pool. Not so at Luck. Artists and fans alike seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves. A mother and her daughter played on a swing set together. When I passed by a half hour later, a young lady in a paisley halter top was rocking back and forth on the swing, a joint casually burning between her lips.