by: Randy Lewis
Two life truisms appear to be at the heart of Willie Nelson’s forthcoming album, “God’s Problem Child”: Nobody’s getting any younger, and no one gets out of here alive.
The Red Headed Stranger, like millions of music fans, became all the more acutely aware of those facts in 2016 thanks to a slew of high-profile musicians’ deaths, perhaps none affecting Nelson more than those of two longtime friends and fellow musical mavericks, Merle Haggard and Leon Russell.
“It gets easier, as we get older, it gets easier to say, ‘Not today,’” Nelson sings in “It Gets Easier,” the first video from the album, which The Times is premiering. It was written by Nelson with another longtime collaborator, songwriter-producer Buddy Cannon, who has steered the proceedings on the new album.
The black-and-white video opens with a shot of blades of grass gently blowing in the wind and the sun on the horizon.
Nelson channels a sense of freedom that comes with advancing years and the inevitability of certain regrets as he continues, “I don’t have to do/ One damn thing I don’t want to do/ Except for missing you/ And that won’t go away.”
The outdoor scenes are interwoven with footage of Nelson seated in a recording studio before a microphone, gently singing the song using his signature elastic phrasing, no unnecessary frills in his wispy-around-the-edges vocal.
“We weren’t planning on making a concept record or anything,” Cannon told music journalist Mikal Gilmore in an essay about the album that’s expected to be posted on Nelson’s website, “but it kind of turned out like that.”
Along with “It Gets Easier,” Nelson and Cannon wrote eight other songs for the collection, the most Nelson has composed for an album in years. The title track was written by Jamey Johnson and Tony Joe White, and it closes with a song Gary Nicholson wrote with Nelson in mind and reflecting on Haggard’s life and legacy, “He Won’t Ever Be Gone.”
“God’s Problem Child,” due April 28, is Nelson’s ninth studio album since he signed a new record deal with Sony Legacy in 2012, an average of two per year.
“He’s a born troubadour,” Cannon told Gilmore. “That early genius that was him and his songs is still there. … It’s like Willie says: He thinks he and his guitar [Trigger] will both break at the same time.”