CD REVIEW - 2014
BAND OF BROTHERS (SONY-LEGACY)
OCTOGENARIAN WILLIE - SEPTUAGENARIANS AND SERPENTS KEEP HIM UP TO SPEED
“Woman shined the apple, and the man had to take a bite/ anything that good God knows just had to be right/ well they woke up naked with a bit headache/ he been done in by a slippery snake/ a man and a woman get to live a while and then they die/ it's been that way since the git go/ Lord it's always been that way.” - The Git Go - Billy Joe Shaver-Gary Nicholson.
Then there's Whispering Bill Anderson, 76, who penned The Songwriters with Canadian Gordie Sampson.
But old Willie aimed for a younger demographic when he chose Buddy Cannon, 67, as his producer and collaborator on those nine new originals.
But Willie's altruism doesn't stop at his writing - among the pre-cryonic cast at his 41 st July 4 Picnic at Cowtown you will see Septuagenarian survivors on stage.
There's Willie's elder sister-pianist Bobbie, 83, Johnny Bush, 79, eight times former convict country star-actor David Allan Coe, 74, Billy Joe and Ray Wylie Hubbard, just 67, among fellow headliners
Sadly Ray Price, who played the picnic for the last time at 86 in 2012, went to God at 87 on December 16 last year, and is no longer available for photo ops.
Band Of Brothers debuted at #5 on the Billboard all genre Top 200 and #1 on country charts with sales of more than 37,000.
It's his highest charting disc since 1982 and only his third release to hit top 10.
Always On My Mind was #2 for four weeks in July 1982.
Willie details his jaded journey down the Lost Highway in the video for The Wall - directed by son Micah - from the album released on June 17.
He reminisces about hardships and regrets of a life spent on the bus on his mortality missive.
Willie has said the song refers to his recent breakdown after extensive touring and ponders what will happen if and when he is no longer in demand as an artist.
“Well, actually it's a true story,” Willie revealed recently.
“I literally you know got so tired I overbooked myself and well of them have in some work done, some health work. And I went over to Germany to get that done. I kind of overbooked myself, I guess, and like they say I hit the wall. I had a shoulder problem and had to go to Germany for, like, an orthoscopic kind of surgery; they take out the blood and recharge it with something and put it back in and that fixes the problem, or at least makes it feel better. George Clooney turned me on to this guy, and while I was over there Kobe Bryant was there. It's a four or five day process, but it was worth it. And while I was over there wrote this song The Wall .”
Nelson sounds triumphant rather than weary.
“I hit the wall,” he sings with hi-octane energy, “and the wall came down.”
He recorded the album at Sound Emporium studio in Nashville, his Pedernales studio near Austin, Texas and The Hit Factory Criteria in Miami, Florida.
Willie cut it between October 2013 and March 2014, with pianist Jim “Moose” Brown, drummer Eddie Bayers, bassist Kevin “Swine” Grant, guitarist Bobby Terry, pedal steel guitarist Tommy White and Mickey Raphael on harmonica.
The disc follows To All The Girls - Nelson's first Top 10 album in more than three decades when released in October 2013 - and Let's Face The Music and Dance and Heroes in 2012, all on Legacy.
HARD LIVING OUTLAW
“Some superstars nowadays get too far off the ground, singing about the back-roads they never have been down.” - Hard To Be An Outlaw - Billy Joe Shaver.
"I think martial arts is one of the best exercises you can do. Mentally, spiritually, physically, everything. I'm sure that's helped. It's good for you spiritually, physically, mentally. There's you-know a little air of confidence that you get. And I think it shows up in your performances, also in your songwriting. It's been good for me that's all I can say.”
Willie previously collaborated with Billy Joe on writing and recording a live version of Wacko From Waco after Shaver was acquitted of shooting Billy Bob Coker in the face outside Papa Joe's Texas Saloon at Lorena - south of Waco - in 2007.
Billy Joe took offence to Billy Bob - a relative of his second ex-wife - stirring his drink with a rusty knife.
So not only did Willie share royalties with Billy Joe he also provided his lawyer and endorsed his character witness - another singing actor Robert Duvall who performed Shaver's song Live Forever on a boat in the Jeff Bridges movie Crazy Heart .
Hard to Be an Outlaw is a western-flavored song that takes a few parodic potshots at the current state of country music.
“Some superstars nowadays get too far off the ground,” Shaver proffers, “singing about the back-roads they never have been down.”
Nelson echoes - “they go and call it country, but that ain't the way it sounds. It's enough to make a renegade want to terrorise the town.”
Both Willie and Billy Joe have long sung the praises of songwriting as therapy.
“Songwriting is gut wrenching,” says Shaver who has toured Australia three times - the latest in 2002 with singing Texan crime novelist Kinky Friedman and his Texas Jewboys.
“But if you dig down and write real honest you'll find something real great. I believe everybody should write. It's the cheapest psychiatrist there is and, God knows, I still need one.”
“We get to break out of prison/ make love to our best friends' wives/ have a beer for breakfast in Boston/ drink rum in Jamaica that night/ we get to tell all our secrets in a code no-one understands/ we get to shoot all the bad guys and never get blood on our hand.” - The Songwriters - Gordie Sampson-Bill Anderson.
Willie mixes his music and acting with business interests despite the untimely intervention many moons ago of the IRS.
The octogenarian still has his own golf course, a bio-diesel company whose Carl's Corner HQ locale he won in a hand of poker, and a vast array of buses to take the stress out of peak hour traffic.
Although his heroes have always been cowboys he also shares a passion for other creative peers in Sampson-Anderson tune The Songwriters .
The singular predecessor - Songwriter - was turned into a 1984 movie starring lost highway disciple Willie and Texan born Rhodes Scholar, helicopter pilot and singer-songwriter actor Kris Kristofferson, who turned 78 on June 22.
The Sydney Pollack produced and Bud Shrake written movie also featured Leslie Ann Warren and Melinda Dillon as glamour and the late Rip Torn, fresh from playing a Waylon Jennings like character in 1973 movie Payday , in a memorable cameo.
Willie and Kris performed their entire 11 original song soundtrack - Guy Clark collaborated with Kris on Under The Gun and late former Playboy cartoonist and author Shel Silverstein and Kris on entree How Do You Feel About Foolin Around ?
This Songwriters enables to exercise - not exorcise - his writers' wit.
"Our mamas don't know what we're doing/ or why we stay out all night long," he sings.
"I told mine I was a drug dealer/ she said, ‘thank God you ain't writin' songs."
BAND OF BROTHERS VIDEO
“When all the songs have been written/ when all of the music has played / when the curtain comes down we'll still be around / to make sure the musicians are paid.” - Band Of Brothers - Willie Nelson-Buddy Cannon
This time around the seven time Grammy winner and seven piece band performed their title track live on David Letterman Show on June 9.
Willie is never short of stage guests but didn't play Dave Loggins' hit Please Come To Boston on June 17 in the Massachusetts capital when he was joined by Oscar-nominated actor Johnny Depp.
Nelson was backed by his Family Band including son Lukas - Depp stayed on stage for the entire set with little introduction.
“He just said something like, ‘and that's Johnny over there playin' the guitar,'” People reported of a concert that also featured Allison Krauss and her band Union Station in the Boston Tea Party locale.
Depp was in Boston filming new movie Black Mass - he also jammed with Willie in March during the SXSW festival in Austin.
The actor played on 1997 Oasis record Be Here Now and soundtrack of movie Once Upon a Time in Mexico .
Willie's title track speaks intimately of life on the road, also chronicled in seven autobiographies including Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings From the Road, featuring a forward by young mate Kinky Friedman - in 2012
GUITAR IN THE CORNER
“There's a guitar in the corner/ that used to have a song/ I would hold it while it played me/ And I would sing along/ There was a happy song about her/ Loving me like I loved her/ But the strings no longer ring/ and things are not the way they were.” - Guitar In The Corner - Willie Nelson-Buddy Cannon
Willie kicks off his disc with biographical Bring It On with his defiant streak - “There is no gain without pain, well I must be gaining a lot/ and I'll give it all that I've got.”
It segues into the equally explicit Guitar In The Corner - a tribute to his trusty axe Trigger and their collective past - The Wall and Vince Gill-Pete Wasner tune Whenever You Come Around .
Send Me a Picture is a classic-style country waltz that he sings in a heartbroken near-whisper, cut from the Willie cloth.
Willie plans to follow Band Of Brothers in our spring with new album December Day that he recorded with his regular band.
Nelson says it has "about eight or nine originals" including Back To Earth and I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen as well a version of Irving Berlin's Alexander's Ragtime Band .
"I've been waiting to put one out with me and the band for a long time," Nelson says.
"These are songs we've been playing for a long time. I really like working with the guys we had for Band of Brothers and anyone else I record with, but I really wanted to do something with my band, too."
WIVES AND GIRLFRIENDS
“Well, I love my wives and I love my girlfriends/ and may they ever meet/ may they never know each other when they pass on the street/ hell, I might be a Mormon or I might be a heathen or a gambler/ I just don't know/ but I love my wives and I love my girlfriends/ I turn them all out and let them all go.” - Wives And Girlfriends - Willie Nelson-Buddy Cannon.
Willie, father of seven, is only half joking as he spices up Wives And Girlfriends as he name checks Mormons for his rollicking polygamy parable.
Yes, there were an even dozen dashes to the altar in the song - triple his own bridal passage.
For those still counting here is the reality roll call.
His first marriage was to Martha Matthews from 1952 to 1962.
The couple have two living children - Lana and Susie.
Their third child Billy suicided in 1991 - a decade after Billy toured Australia with Willie.
Willie wrote about Martha sewing him up in a bed sheet and then beating him with a broomstick.
His second marriage was to Shirley Collie - former singing spouse of DJ-songwriter Biff Collie - in 1963.
They divorced in 1971 after Collie found a bill from the maternity ward of a Houston hospital charged to Nelson and Connie Koepke for the birth of Paula Carlene Nelson.
Koepke and Nelson married the same year and had two daughters, Paula Carlene and Amy Lee.
They divorced in 1988 and Willie wed Annie D'Angelo in 1991.
They have two sons, Lukas Autry and Jacob Micah.
Willie's song Wives And Girlfriends is a sibling of sorts of the western swing flourish in cheating requiem Used to Her - maybe an answer song of sorts from a woman's viewpoint.
So how does Willie organise gender reversal for writing?
“Well I have had a little experience,” the singer quipped.
Willie enjoys working with Cannon who also produced Kenny Chesney's 16th album, preceded by his single American Kids .
"He produced the album, but he's also a great writer and we're good together," Willie confessed.
"We had a sort of formula that worked. I'd come up with an idea I'd send him, just me and the guitar, just one take on it, and he would take that into the studio and hire musicians and cut the whole track from that, then I'd go back and put my vocal on it. So it was an easy album to cut, really."
MEASLES AND WHOOPING COUGH
“You're like the measles, you're like the whooping cough/ I already had you, so why in heavens name can't you get lost.” - I Thought I Left You - Willie Nelson-Buddy Cannon.
Wives And Girlfriends segues into the vitriolic tune I Thought I Left You .
His version of Dennis Morgan-Shawn Camp-Billy Burnette tune Crazy Like Me has a singalong flavour as he jokes “Well, I like ya cos you're hotter than the Fourth of July/ and I like ya cos you got that wild look in your eye/ I like ya cos you're reckless and as free as the breeze/ but I love ya cos you're crazy like me.”
Although Willie delves deeply into his past he gazes forward in his fitting finale - I've Got A Lot of Travelling Left to Do on a variety of buses and planes.
He sings with conviction, “it's time to put on my rambling shoes” as he urges fans to join him on another stanza.
“You know, I was telling somebody the other day that I quit after every tour,” Willie explained.
“But after a few days off I say, let's try it again. So you know I'm having fun, the audience is still there and seem to be enjoying the show. So I don't have any plans to quit right now.”
There are no plans to quit the road - for many good reasons.
“I'm really healthy,” Willie reflected.
“And who knows why? I think a lot of it has to do with my doing shows lot. I think when you get out there and sing for an hour and a half and play the guitar and move around and wave and clap, that that's probably the best exercise - best workout that you can do. And you know I do 100 or 150 or so shows a year. And that's just really good exercise for me.”
Sadly it's been rough and rocky travelling on the home front.
Willie's Luck Ranch , located in Luck, Texas outside of Austin, was destroyed by tornado force winds.
"Our beautiful Luck wasn't so lucky recently,” Willie explained.
“Last week's tornado force winds ripped several buildings apart, including the bank, post office, and left World Headquarters holding on by a splinter. We are happy to report no one was hurt and the church only had a few windows blown out. Some towns got it a lot worse, so we aren't complaining. Luck is a tough town. It can be rebuilt."
Luck, Texas was initially built on Nelson's ranch for the film adaptation of his 1975 album Red Headed Stranger .
He kept the town intact after filming and uses it to host the Heartbreaker Banquet festival during SXSW.