Willie Nelson: 1961

Willie Nelson

If Red Headed Stranger, the Troublemaker and To Lefty From Willie were the ultimate Seventies statements in soul country western simplicity, then what does that make these recently unearthed tapes, originally cut as a songwriter’s demo?  I’ll venture to guess it makes them either the best Willie Nelson reissue to hit the market since his star started rising or just the best hour’s worth of heartbreak this century.  Whichever, this double album confirms Nelson is no overnight guru but a brilliant writer who had all the goods long before his talent was recognized. 

Willie in 1961 may have been slightly wet behind the ears, but at the time he had clearly accumulated enough rough and rocky traveling experience to become an authority on cheating, unrequited love and related matters.  Woven together they don’t make an epic operetta, but each of the twenty selections does tell a good story (especially Happiness Lives Next Door, Blame It On the Times, and A New Way to Cry which is what good country is all about any way.)

The musicians here are as important as the material, though.  Nelson assembled a bunch of up and comers like guitarist Pete Wade, pedel steel genius Jimmy Day and pianist Pig Robbins for the kind of instrumental support Music City could use more of today.  recorded in an era when the town was too busy making hits to admire itself in the mirror, the music, typified by Robbins’ freewheeling congo-mambo lead on Some Other Time, is reminiscent of Nelson’s later RCA recordings, albeit looser and minus the string and choral embellishments producers eventually became obsessed with.

Joe Nick Patoski

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