Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

Willie Nelson, always worth the wait, Charlotte, NC (June 20, 2018)

Friday, June 22nd, 2018
story and photo by:  Jeff Hahne

Read article, see more photos here.  

Outlaw Music Festival f. Willie Nelson, The Avett Brothers, Jamey Johnson and Sarah Shook and the Disarmers
PNC Music Pavilion
June 20, 2018

When Willie Nelson abruptly canceled his performance nearly a month ago, fans left Charlotte’s PNC Music Pavilion filled with disappointment. Sure, they said they’d make up the show, but would it really happen? When a June 20 makeup date was announced, fans remained optimistic. On Wednesday night, Nelson held up his end of the bargain in fine fashion. He rolled through hit after hit and cover after cover. At this point, Nelson doesn’t owe anyone an explanation or a makeup date, but he showed his love of performing for more than an hour. His only acknowledgement of last month’s debacle was a simple, “I feel like I’ve been here before.”

Before Nelson, Concord’s own Avett Brothers performed a stripped-down set a la 2008. With only Seth and Scott Avett flanked by bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon, the quartet rifled through songs like they used to when they were performing in Charlotte on a regular basis. Family harmonies, energetic foot stomping and spot-on instrumentation highlighted the set. It might have stole the show if they were opening for anyone other than Willie Nelson.

Willie Nelson setlist
Whiskey River
Still Is Still Moving to Me
Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys
Good Hearted Woman
Down Yonder
If You Got the Money
Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground
On the Road Again
Always on My Mind
It’s All Going to Pot
Jambalaya (On the Bayou)
Hey Good Lookin’
Move It On Over
Shoeshine Man
Georgia on My Mind
I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train
Funny How Time Slips Away
Night Life
Still Not Dead
Something You Get Through
Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die
Will the Circle Be Unbroken / I’ll Fly Away

The Avett Brothers setlist
Laundry Room
Distraction #74
Down With the Shine
Talk on Indolence
Murder in the City
I Wish I Was
Satan Pulls the Strings
At the Beach
Standing With You
Mama Tried
Through My Prayers

Willie Nelson & Family at the Apollo Theater – London, England (June 17, 2010)

Sunday, June 17th, 2018


opollo2 apollo3 opollo4

Willie Nelson says separating immigrant families at border is ‘outrageous’

Sunday, June 17th, 2018
by:  Dave Paulson

One of the most famous Texans of all time has sounded off against the “zero tolerance” border policy that has resulted in immigrant children being separated from their parents after they enter the U.S. illegally.

In a statement issued Thursday and first reported by Rolling Stone, country music legend Willie Nelson spoke out against the policy.

What’s going on at our southern border is outrageous,” Nelson said. “Christians everywhere should be up in arms. What happened to ‘Bring us your tired and weak and we will make them strong?’ This is still the promise land.”

Nelson was referencing the song “Living in the Promiseland,” which he recorded in the 1980s. Its lyrics include “Give us your tired and weak and we will make them strong/ Bring us your foreign songs and we will sing along.”

Nelson, 85, has been socially active and outspoken for decades. In addition to co-creating Farm Aid to help America’s family farmers, he has also spoken out in support of gay marriage and has been a high-profile advocate for legalizing marijuana.

Last year, after attorney general Jeff Sessions called marijuana dependency “only slightly less awful” than heroin dependency, Nelson told the Washington Post the attorney general should “try heroin and try marijuana and then call me and let me know if he still thinks it’s the same thing, and one is as bad as the other.”

Sticking with Willie

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018
by: Scott Hollifield

I went to a Willie Nelson show and a news event broke out.

In Charlotte, thousands of us hooted and hollered our way through the second stop of the 2018 Outlaw Music Festival, waiting for Willie to close out the festivities with “Whiskey River” and “Amazing Grace” and a bunch of Willie standards in between.

Willie appeared, then disappeared. A little time passed and Willie appeared again, picked up his guitar, set down his guitar, whipped his cowboy hat into the crowd and left. An hour later, the disembodied venue voice informed us that, due to illness, Willie would not return that evening, drive safely, Uber wisely and adios.

The part about whipping his cowboy hat into the audience I later confirmed through a YouTube clip because I was seated far back on the lawn in the only seats journalists can afford when they don’t have press credentials.

“What just happened?” asked one of my lawn mates.

“It’s hard to tell, but I think someone walked onto the stage — might have been Willie or maybe even Crystal Gayle — and threw something into the audience,” I said, squinting toward the stage. “Maybe a hat or a small dog.”

It didn’t take long for the non-show to become a news event. The Youtube clip went viral and media outlets were all over it, some noting that Willie looked more angry than sick in the clip.

The reason doesn’t much matter to me. At 85 years old, Willie has earned the right to stay all night, stay a little longer or turn around and get back on the road again. I stood by Willie more than 40 years ago and I don’t mind standing by him again, especially since I got a refund.

Willie released the “Red Headed Stranger” album in 1975. I had never heard much by Willie Nelson before, but the song “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” on the radio got my attention and I soon acquired the album, likely from the Columbia Record Club, which I probably still owe.

It was one of the most remarkable records I had ever heard, a concept album that tells the tale of a gun-toting, broken-hearted preacher turned fugitive.I nearly wore it out on my turntable.

“I can’t wait for my friends to hear this,” said young Scotty, flashing a gap-toothed grin and holding the album cover aloft like the Holy Grail. “They are going to love it.”

Turns out that in 1975, western concept albums with sparse arrangements weren’t big with the 11- and 12-year-old set. The top pop songs of the day included “Mandy” by Barry Manilow, “Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain & Tennille and “Jive Talkin” by the Bee Gees.

Willie didn’t impress them at that point, but just like the Red Headed Stranger, I stuck to my guns and I kept listening. Eventually, most of the naysayers came around to my way of thinking.

So, I’m sticking by Willie, in sickness and in health. And if by chance Willie somehow reads this and would like to reimburse my lawn mates and me for the $250 we spent on beer, that would be fine, too.

Willie Nelson Doesn’t Owe You a Damn Thing

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

n inordinate amount of people seem to be angry about Willie Nelson’s cancellation of a show this weekend in North Carolina as part of the the Outlaw Music Fest tour, even more so than normally emerge after a concert cancellation, including people who weren’t even there. Shows and tours get canceled all the time for a host of different reasons, and Willie Nelson is 85-years-old. Why all of a sudden is anger overriding concern for the well-being of the greatest living country music legend on the planet, and one of the most well-respected Americans who has ever lived? How with one cancellation did Willie Nelson burn through over six decades of good will?

You first have to put yourself in the shoes of a concertgoer at the PNC Music Pavillion on Saturday night. You’ve been hanging out in the hot weather all day, paying jacked up prices for embellished concessions for hours. Your back is stiff. Your feet are tired. When you purchased tickets originally, you thought Elvis Costello and Brandi Carlile were also going to play the bill, and they eventually canceled and were replaced with undercard acts. Then you sat or stood waiting for Willie Nelson 45 minutes after he was supposed to start playing only to see him saunter on stage, throw his hat out into the crowd, and then saunter off. Then you waited another hour like a cow in a stockade before you were finally told officially Willie Nelson would not be performing that night. And you were mad as hell.

This isn’t just the case of a canceled show and a rescheduled date or reimbursed ticket. This was a festival. Many folks drove from hours away to attend the event. Some flew in for the festivities. Many purchased hotel accommodations, lined up babysitters, took vacation time off, spent the one opportunity they had all year to splurge on entertainment to see someone they may never get to see perform again. It was Memorial Day weekend, and there were a myriad of other options of how to spend the holiday. And instead of Outlaw Fest being a release valve for life’s infinite pressures by delivering a night of fond memories, it was one of disappointment, and drama, brought to a steaming boil by the way it all appeared to be handled.

Many conspiracy theories are swirling around about just why Willie Nelson decided he wasn’t playing music Saturday night. But the actual explanation is incredibly simple. There were no technical difficulties. Willie Nelson wasn’t angry at anyone. It wasn’t due to curfew restrictions. It was all because Willie Nelson was physically unable to perform due to an apparent stomach bug so bad that he just did not have the intestinal fortitude to fight through it.

But he tried. He gave all his 85-year-old body could give. That is why he came out on stage. Twice. That’s why they didn’t tell the crowd he was canceling, because he was too stubborn to face the reality that he was too sick to perform, and kept trying to fight through it. But he just couldn’t go (or couldn’t stop going, perhaps). And nobody was more angry about it than him. Because he’s Willie Nelson. He wants to perform for you. He’s said many times before he wants to die on stage. He just didn’t want it to be Saturday night.

Willie Nelson wasn’t angry at the promoters, the sound guys, the venue, or anyone else. He was angry at the situation. The very next evening he was playing at The Anthem in Washington D.C. as part of Outlaw Fest once again, and according to fans and video, Willie put on a quality performance. He was still breathy in moments of songs, but he’s 85-years-old. Of course if you missed out on Willie Saturday night, the news of his quick recovery may be of little consolation. It may even infuriate you because you missed your chance. But if your heart is where it is supposed to be—which is showing sincere concern for the well-being of Willie Nelson instead of your own selfish concerns—you should be happy he bounced back.

You have every right to be angry if you were in Charlotte Saturday night to see Willie Nelson perform, but you have no right to be angry at Willie Nelson. This guy has been nothing but a warhorse for country music, an advocate for the American farmer, an Elder Statesman of the United States, and the champion of countless other causes over his career. He served in the military. You purchase a ticket to see any 85-year-old performer, you’re running a risk. They may be unfit to take the stage. They may die before the date ever comes. But you still pull the trigger on tickets because you may never have the opportunity to see them again.

Years from now, people will be bragging how they saw Willie Nelson come out on stage in Charlotte just throw his hat in the crowd. Others will be jealous they weren’t there to see it first hand. Still others will lie and say they were there, when in truth they were 1,000 miles away sipping cheap beer on their back porch. Because what happened Saturday night will become another piece of Willie Nelson lore. Even in defeat, Willie Nelson made the moment memorable.

We saw this same late-career pattern happen with Merle Haggard, with George Jones, and countless others. Everyone says they should hang it up instead of going out with a whimper. But the performers would rather die than not play. Playing shows is the only thing that keeps them alive. If they retired, they would die sooner. It’s the only life they know. It’s painful to watch, but beautiful to witness. It’s performers doing what they were put on the earth to do, until they die.

If you get caught on the wrong end of a cancellation, it can be incredibly frustrating, and understandably so. But dammit, appreciate the gift that is every waking moment we get to share this earth with a legend like Willie Nelson, now more than ever as those moments become increasingly fleeting by the day. Willie has given it his all, and then some. He doesn’t owe you anything.

Tickets can be refunded. Shows can be rescheduled. But nothing will ever replace Willie Nelson.

read article here

Willie Nelson’s Outlaw Festival in D.C. (May 27, 2017)

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Willie Nelson performed a full set on Sunday (May 27) in Washington, D.C. after having to reschedule Saturday’s (May 26) concert in Raleigh, N.C. at the PNC Pavilion.

A representative confirms Nelson came down with a stomach bug and was forced to reschedule the Raleigh concert. Video footage online from Saturday night shows the 85-year-old singer throwing his cowboy hat into the crowd and walking offstage in a second attempt to perform.

Both engagements were with Sturgill Simpson as part of the 2018 Outlaw Music Festival. Nelson continues the tour on June 22 in Cincinnati, Ohio with Simpson, the Head and the Heart and Old Crow Medicine Show.

With shows scheduled through November, Nelson remains one of country music’s hardest touring acts. His latest album Last Man Standing embodies early rock ‘n’ roll by Chuck Berry and explores themes of friendship (“Me and You”), Biblical allusion (“Heaven Is Closed,” “Don’t Tell Noah”), mortality (“Last Man Standing,” “Bad Breath”), the afterlife (“I’ll Try to Do Better Next Time”), partying (“Ready to Roar”) and heartache (“She Made My Day,” “Very Far to Crawl”).

Album Review: Last Man Standing, Willie Nelson

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

Willie Nelson, Last Man Standing

Last Man Standing Tracklist

    1. Last Man Standing
    2. Don’t Tell Noah
    3. Bad Breath
    4. Me & You
    5. Something You Get Through
    6. Ready To Roar
    7. Heaven Is Closed
    8. I Ain’t Got Nothin
    9. She Made My Day
    10. I’ll Try To Do Better Next Time
    11. Very Far To Crawl

Album Review: Last Man Standing, Willie Nelson

Another Twelve Inches of Willie.

Around twelve short months ago, I reviewed the last Willie Nelson album, God’s Problem Child, and took my hat off to the work and strike rate of a man about to turn eighty-four. If anything, I underestimated the great man’s industriousness, for here he is back again, on the eve of his eighty-fifth birthday, with another fine lump of wax. It’s very much of a piece with the last one, Nelson mocking his age and laughing in the face of the big finish. If this is the result of the ingestion of copious amounts of the lethal weed, then perhaps we should start prescribing it to the lethargic en masse.

The music ranges from shuffles that’ll warm the heart of any fans of the late JJ Cale, like the title-track and ‘Don’t Tell Noah’; the western swing of his beloved Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys – Nelson recorded a whole album of this stuff with Asleep At The Wheel called, obviously enough, Willie And The Wheel – on the defiant ‘Ready To Roar’; and the gorgeous, soul-tinged country ballad of ‘Something You Get Through’, carried along by the harmonica of Mickey Raphael, Nashville’s own Charlie Parker.

The songwriting – all, like the last one, by Willie and producer Buddy Cannon – is at a level that any of the current crop of big hats would kill to reach; from a good gag about halitosis (‘Bad Breath’) to his sly, grinning assertion that he really tried when reminded that “The good book says love everybody”. When he finally hangs up his battered guitar Trigger, and heads off to join his pals in that honky tonk in the sky, we’re going to miss Willie Nelson.

Willie Nelson presents award to President Jimmy Carter (May 16, 1979)

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018


President Carter receives the first special award Tuesday from the Country Music Association.  Country stars Willie Nelson (left) and Charley Pride presented the award at an Oval Office ceremony recognizing Carther’s enthusiasm for country music.  As Nelson handed over an inscribed glass bowl from the Association, the President said, “This is the first time I ever saw you with a glass in your hand without beer in it.”

Willie Nelson is fine

Monday, May 14th, 2018

Willie Nelson, “Last Man Standing” — “The strongest yet” (review)

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

Willie Nelson, Last Man Standing
by: Tim Stegall

“I don’t want to be the last man standing,” intones the most recognizable voice in country music over the driving rumba of his 67th studio LP’s title track. “But, wait a minute,” he second-guesses the punch line. “Maybe I do.” Willie Nelson’s 12th collaboration with co-producer and co-songwriter Buddy Cannon proves every bit as fruitful as the last 11, here yielding 11 killer new originals in a creative renaissance that’s seen Abbott’s first son release three of his strongest sets, including 2014’s Band of Brothers and 2017’s God’s Problem Child, all country chart-toppers.

The playing bristles with energy, led by crackling drums, Mickey Raphael’s wailing harmonica, and the seasoned bark of the singer’s stalwart guitar Trigger taking pride of place in Cannon’s sonically rich production. Front and center is that familiar, reedy voice, aged to perfection and delivering some of the best lines he’s written. Country-boogie groover “Don’t Tell Noah” advises, “Don’t quit trying to change the government and make them see how wrong they went.” Meanwhile, drinker’s waltz “Bad Breath” laments, “Halitosis is a word I never could spell, but bad breath is better than no breath at all.”

Willie Nelson, 85, keeps going from strength-to-strength, and Last Man Standing is the strongest yet.

Finding Willie Nelson in Austin

Friday, May 11th, 2018

photo:  Jay Janner
by:  Dave Thomas

There are two kinds of people in Austin: Those that remember old Austin and those who will start remembering old Austin in a few years.

Wait, that’s not it. Maybe it’s: Those who have allergies and those who will.

Well, maybe both of those are true. But what I’m aiming for is this: Those who love Willie Nelson and those who ought to start.

Willie was born in Abbott, north of Waco along I-35. He started writing hit songs in Houston — penning “Night Life” on his commute from Pasadena. The budding songwriter made a career in Nashville, and when his home burned down, he found his footing in Bandera. Even now, he’s often found toking, joking and gambling with pals in Maui, Hawaii.

But (at least when he’s not on the road, again and again) Austin is the spiritual home to Willie Nelson. He was always going to be a great songwriter. He created something more here. Are you feeling it, too?

Here are six places in and near Austin where you can gaze upon Willie now … or think about Willie then.

An 8-foot-tall bronze statue of Willie Nelson watches over West 2nd Street, also known as Willie Nelson Boulevard, at at ACL Live at the Moody Theater, the home of “Austin City Limits,” Monday September 12, 2016. The statue was created by Philadelphia artist Clete Shields, and given to the city by the nonprofit Capital Area Statues Inc. in a ceremony on April 20, 2012. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN (Jay Janner/Jay Janner)

1. The Willie Nelson statue, 310 W. 2nd St

The eight-foot tall statue was unveiled on April 20 (4/20!), 2012. Created by Philadelphia-based artist Clete Shields, the sculpture is near the home of Austin City Limits. The pilot of the long-running show featured Willie, of course.

PHOTOS: Willie Nelson through the years

Threadgill’s on Barton Springs in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, December 20, 2008. (Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman)

2. Threadgill’s World Headquarters, 301 W Riverside Dr

Plenty close physically and spiritually right on top of the site of the iconic Armadillo World Headquarters, you can belly up to the bar (or sit down for chicken-fried steak) and reflect that only the years separate you from that night in 1972 when Willie actually brought the hippies and rednecks together (and blazed his future path) in one epic August Armadillo show. Armadillo leader and Threadgill’s owner Eddie Wilson would be instrumental the next year in making the first Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic a success.

A 60-foot-by-20-foot mural of Willie Nelson looms over traffic on East Seventh Street at Neches Street on Monday, February 22, 2016. Austin artist Wiley Ross completed the mural Sunday after a week of painting. Rudy Duran is dwarfed by the mural while posing for a photo. “He is Texas, as far as I’m concerned,” said Duran, who came to look at the mural as soon as he heard about it. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN (Jay Janner/Jay Janner)

3. The giant Willie Nelson mural, East Seventh at Neches Street

Artist and musician Wiley Ross spent 80 hours over six days completing this 60-foot-by-20-foot mural, which would make an excellent backdrop for your next snapshot, selfie or official portrait.


4. Southpark Meadows, 9500 S IH 35 Frontage Rd 

You don’t have to eat at the Texas Roadhouse here, though Willie is a part-owner and there’s a small smattering of memorabilia. Instead, drive farther into the shopping center, toward the Hobby Lobby. In the parking lot here is where the stage used to be for the Southpark Meadows concert venue. Willie held three Fourth of July Picnics here: 1984, 2000 and, most notably, 1985. In addition to being the rainiest Picnic, ‘85 was one of the first appearances of The Highwaymen, the country supergroup Willie formed with friends Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson.

The “Willie Nelson For President” mural on STAG Provisions for Men was painted by Joe Swec from a drawing by Jacqui Oakley and a design by Erick Montes. Photographed Thursday July 14, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN (Jay Janner/Jay Janner)

5. The Willie for President mural, 1423 S Congress Ave

This smaller mural, on the side of the Stag Provisions for Men building is probably a little better for capturing snapshots with the Red-Headed Stranger. It also is very close to the former site of the Austin Opry House, the venue Willie opened in 1977. The Opry House was Willie’s often-chaotic, not-near-as-good answer to the Armadillo World Headquarters.

Susie Fowler introduces Tessy Lou and the Shotgun Stars members (from left) Bryan Paugh, Kenny Williams and Scott Martin during a concert Sunday at Poodie’s Roadhouse benefiting residents of Aransas Pass and the Rockport area who suffered from the effects of Hurricane Harvey. (SUE KNOLLE/Lake Travis View)

6. Poodie’s Hilltop Roadhouse, 22308 Hwy. 71 W., Spicewood

Named for and created by Willie Nelson stage manager Randall “Poodie” Locke, who died in 2009, this Hill Country bar was, for awhile, about as close as you could get to the idea that Willie might just stop by and pick a few songs. That may be more legend than reality these days, but when he’s not in Hawaii or on the road, Willie lives nearby. Strike up a conversation, you never know who will be telling the next Willie story — or who they might introduce you to.

Willie Nelson, “Last Man Standing” –

Thursday, May 10th, 2018
Robert Christgau


Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing (Legacy)

As Nelson made room for his 85th birthday, he also beefed up his wee catalogue by adding 11 new tunes written with whipper-snapping seventy-something Buddy Cannon. Their organizing concept is wisdom as opposed to age brags proper like “I don’t want to be the last man standing / But wait a minute maybe I do.” Sometimes the wisdom is rakish: “I gave you a ring then you gave me the finger,” “He might not know me ’cause I’m low class / But tell him I’m the one with his head up his ass,” “Bad breath is better than no breath at all.” Sometimes it’s paradoxical: “We were getting along just fine / Just me and me,” “So many people, it sure is lonely.” Sometimes it’s just deep: “It’s not something you get over / It’s just something you get through.”

Always it sounds like it started with an idea that popped out of his mouth or sidled in from his subconscious, and who knows, maybe the weed helped—with an eye on retirement income, he’s now marketing his own brand, Willie’s Reserve. Over impeccably relaxed session work, that wisdom is delivered with a clarity and resonance that would inspire substance abusers half his age to quit drinking if they had his brains or soul.


Robert Christgau

The self-proclaimed “Dean of American Rock Critics,” Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it. He was the music editor at the Village Voice for almost four decades where he created the trusted annual Pazz & Jop Poll. He was one of the first mainstream critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: “Melodic.” On top of his columns, he has published six books, including his 2015 autobiography, Going Into the City . He currently teaches at New York University. Every week, we publish Expert Witness, his long-running critical column. To find out more about his career, read his welcome post ; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.

Read article here.

New Willie Nelson album, “Last Man Standing”

Saturday, May 5th, 2018

Willie Nelson, Last Man Standing

Last Man Standing, which came out on April 27th, is Willie’s 67th studio release. It’s the sort of quiet standout that he seems to be able to put into the world seemingly without even trying too hard. (It’s one of two albums he’s announced for 2018, and will be one of five released in the past three years.) A song like “Something You Get Through” is a stone-cold classic of a Willie ballad on mortality, love, and survival, and even the quirky tracks (there’s one called “Bad Breath”) display the kind of wit and charm that makes Willie, well, Willie.

Willie Nelson, “Last Man Standing”

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

Willie Nelson, Last Man Standing
by Shawn Donohue

A few years ago false reports circulated online that Willie Nelson had died. The American icon reacted to these with his classic ease and wit and most surprisingly, it inspired him to craft his strongest album in years titled Still Not Dead. The follow-up, Last Man Standing is more of a mixed bag; however, its successful efforts manage to continue Nelson’s late-career writing/recording resurgence.

The 11 tracks were all co-written with Nelson’s longtime producer Buddy Cannon and run the scope of country sounds. Musically the pace is varied, the slower numbers hit the mark more often than the light rocking western joints which are starting to outpace the singer; while he has one of the quintessential American voices the 85-year-old Nelson is most certainly slowing down.

Opening with the title track, the infectious groove bubbles as Nelson sings his conflicted feelings about his current place in life, outliving many close friends and loved ones, sad to see them go, but selfishly glad he’s still around.  “Bad Breath” shows off Nelson’s laid- back wit and charm as a songwriter who has always kept humor close by as Mickey Raphael blows gorgeous harmonica lines; Nelsons backing band is right in step with the singer.

Never one to skip a weepy ballad Nelson here focuses his talents on “Something You Get Through” which (while sappy) does the job but even more successful is the slow western waltzing standout “I’ll Try To Do Better Next Time”.  “Me and You” is the in-it-until-the-end road song before “She Made My Day” brings back the humor of a relationship gone south. The best song on the album is the excellent “Heaven Is Closed” which finds Willie delivering his strongest vocal work in front of brilliant pedal steel guitar and lyrics that cause him to want to stick around a bit longer.

That said how many American legends are turning eighty-five, writing new songs and making records half as good as this? Not many, that’s for damn sure. With his glorious voice, charm and light-hearted take on life, Nelsons Last Man Standing makes sure the good outweighs the bad.


Willie Nelson sings Sinatra, “My Way”

Saturday, April 28th, 2018
by:  Chris Morris

It will likely come as no surprise that, 40 years after the release of his classic album of standards “Stardust,” Willie Nelson will be releasing another standards-filled new collection, this one devoted to the repertoire of Frank Sinatra.

“Sinatra and I were very good friends,” Nelson says by way of explanation. “He was my favorite singer, and he had written one time in an article that I was his favorite singer, so we kinda kicked it off good together, and we worked a few shows together, did a couple of albums together, and a video. He was just a buddy.”

Nelson expects that the Sinatra project, titled “My Way,” will be released on the heels of “Last Man Standing,” his new Legacy Recordings album, out today (April 27), just ahead of his 85th birthday. Buddy Cannon, who has produced most of the singer-songwriter’s recent records, recorded the horn- and string-laden backing tracks for the upcoming release in Nashville, with Nelson laying down vocals in his Austin studio.

When Nelson set about recording “Stardust” in late 1977, collections of standards were hardly a commonplace, especially for late-blooming country talents. In fact, during that era, even Sinatra had largely abandoned the standard book for compositions by the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Neil Diamond, Stevie Wonder and Jim Croce.

Nelson’s status had only recently changed from that of a gifted, hit-penning songwriter who didn’t sell many records. The one-two punch of 1975’s “Red Headed Stranger,” the product of what was inked as a one-off deal with Columbia, and the 1976 RCA anthology “Wanted! The Outlaws” had established his profile as outlaw country’s major act.

The success of “Stranger” had been followed up by a pair of relatively conservative LPs, one of them a tribute to ‘50s country star Lefty Frizzell. But Nelson, who was enjoying artistic carte blanche at Columbia as a result of his double-platinum hit, had an idea for a move into stylistic terra incognita.

His previous labels had shown little patience with their intransigent artist’s desire to record anything resembling a standard. Nelson had essayed a string-laden, Patsy Cline-like interpretation of the 1929 pop chestnut “Am I Blue” at Liberty in 1963. During a long, unproductive stay at RCA, he’d slip the occasional oddball number in among his own compositions and various country covers, such as “Don’t Fence Me In,” Cole Porter’s “cowboy song” (1964) and Frank Loesser’s “Have I Stayed Away Too Long” (1966), also essayed by Tex Ritter and Charlie Rich.

He says, “The idea was, a good song will always be good, and I played these songs all my life, practically – ‘Stardust,’ ‘Moonlight in Vermont.’ All those songs my sister [pianist and longtime accompanist Bobbie] and I used to sit around the house and play when we were growing up in Texas. It wasn’t a big stretch for me to do these songs.”

In 1977, Nelson was spending a good deal of time in Los Angeles, scoping out the movie business. (His breakthrough acting roles would come in 1979’s “The Electric Horseman” and 1980’s “Honeysuckle Rose.”) But his long-contemplated standards project would get a liftoff from one of his Malibu neighbors: Booker T. Jones, the former keyboardist of Booker T. & the MG’s, the potent instrumental combo and house band of Memphis’ Stax Records.

“Actually,” Nelson recalls, “we wound up living in the same apartment building in L.A. He was above me a couple of stories. We hung out together, and we started talking about making records. It was just kind of a natural thing to do. We wanted to do some great standards, and he’s an incredible musician, arranger, producer. So me and Booker just kind of went to work.

“There were a lot of [the songs] I knew I wanted to record. There were a few he wanted to introduce and let me see if I wanted to do ‘em. It didn’t take long to come up with 12 or 15 songs.”

Ultimately, 10 tracks were selected from tunes recorded at Brian Ahern’s home, employing the producer-engineer’s Enactron Truck mobile studio. They included Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” originally an instrumental and later augmented with lyrics by Mitchell Parrish, Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind,” Kurt Weill’s “September Song,” Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and George and Ira Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

Columbia’s country division had meager expectations for Nelson’s lean, subdued collection of classic songs, which didn’t sit comfortably with the outlaw image formulated on “Red Headed Stranger.” So the execs were not holding their breath for the first sales reports after “Stardust” was issued in April 1978.

And then, suddenly, the label had a smash hit on its hands – one that proved to be the bestselling album of Willie Nelson’s recording career. The surpassing warmth and sensitivity of his interpretive singing won him legions of new fans, many of whom may have been only vaguely aware of his country recordings.

“Stardust” spawned two No. 1 country singles, “Georgia On My Mind” and a stunning minor-key interpretation of “Blue Skies,” and the No. 3 entry “All of Me.” The album spent a staggering 117 weeks on the pop albums chart, peaking at No. 30, and reached the top of the country LPs chart. In 1979, Nelson’s “Georgia” collected a Grammy Award as best male country vocal performance.

Nelson has frequently returned to the “deep well” he has drawn from so successfully and expressively. Among his many other excursions into standard terrain, he cites as his own personal favorites “Without a Song,” the 1983 sequel-of-sorts to “Stardust” that reunited him with producer Jones, and “American Classic,” a jazz-based set produced by Tommy LiPuma featuring the arrangements of Crusaders keyboardist Joe Sample.

The possibilities of the Great American Songbook – which will play out again on “My Way” – are endless, Nelson says: “‘Stardust’ was a good album. It had all those standards in it, but there’s also hundreds more of those standards that can be recorded.”