A mixture of fervency and offhandedness goes to the heart of Willie Nelson’s mystique. He exudes a knowledge that has been so thoroughly assimilated that to philosophize in anything but an understated tone would be hysterical.
From the mid-1970′s through the mid-80′s, Mr. Nelson was close to being the king of country music, although his sound has always stood starkly apart from the Nashville mainstream. For nearly two decades, he and his band, the Family, have had a relation to the country-music mainstream that is similar to the Grateful Dead’s to corporate rock. They are a band of musical gypsies who do what they do, oblivious of pop fashion.
Ragtag and homemade, but soulful and spontaneous, their sound might best be described simply as “Willie Nelson music.” Organized around Mr. Nelson’s vibrant acoustic guitar, which echoes the Gypsy violin of Django Reinhardt, it incorporates elements of rockabilly, honky-tonk and Texan swing music while remaining mindful of Tin Pan Alley and Nashville in its respect for the well-made song. — Stephen Holden