CD REVIEW 2017
GOD'S PROBLEM CHILD (SONY-LEGACY)
OCTOGENARIAN WILLIE NELSON STILL NOT DEAD AT 84
“I woke up still not dead today/ the Internet said I had passed away/ if I died I wasn't dead to stay/ and I woke up still not dead today/ the news said I was gone to my dismay/ don't bury me I've got a show to play.” - Still Not Dead - Willie Nelson-Buddy Cannon.
Shotgun Willie Nelson has long been the master of wry humour that leaves detractors run down by their own tractors in the fickle show biz circus that has a hybrid high wire of whimsy and woe.
So it's no surprise that Willie, a ripe young 84-year-old, penned I Woke Up Still Not Dead Today in response to Internet trolls choking on their own click bait.
“I got up two or three times in the last couple of years and read the paper where I'd passed away,” Nelson joked of his instant inspiration for Still Not Dead.
“So I just wanted to let them know that's a lot of horse-shit.”
It's one of seven songs penned by Texan Willie and longtime producer and partner in rhyme Buddy Cannon who doesn't keep his powder dry as he joins his client in five videos released to promote latest album God's Problem Child.
There's no accurate tally of how many albums Willie has released in his prolific 55 year recording career but it far exceeds 100 - this is the 10th since 2012 in his Legacy series.
God's Problem Child is Willie's first album with all-new songs since Band of Brothers in June 2014
So there's no chance of Willie slowing down with cameos on peers discs and, of course, his 44 th July picnic with family and pals in Austin this year.
I first recall seeing Willie live in 1978 at the Austin Opry House for the launch of his Lone Star Records that boasted Willie album Face of A Fighter and also featured Don Bowman, the Geezinslaw Brothers , Larry G Hudson, Cooder Browne and other Texan peers.
It wasn't just the music that left an indelible memory mark for me - it was the dwarf who ran through Willie's legs as I was in the throes of being introduced to the Red-Headed Stranger.
Willie vividly recalled the launch and dwarf two years later when his merchandising manager Bo Franks played him the Dead Livers homage I'd Love To Have A Joint With Willie before his debut 1981 Australian tour.
That tune, written on a plane between Tamworth and Sydney the year before by this diarist, became a pre-concert P.A. system staple on his tour and earned newspaper front page pulpits when aired on commercial radio in Sydney and Melbourne.
But that was then and now Nelson has his own herb superb brand Willie's Reserve that is available alongside Annie's Edibles - chocolate cookies marketed by fourth wife Annie - in U.S. states where marijuana has been legalized.
For the health conscious Annie, betrothed to Willie for 26 years, has culinary advice for vegans and those with Celiac Disease or gluten allergies.
And, as a special marketing tool, Willie wears his Smoke Weed Every Day sweater while pouring himself a cup of coffee and laughing in the face of internet reports that he had died in his video for Still Not Dead Today .
Willie also shows off some dance steps that prove he is still alive and kicking.
SHOTGUN WILLIE FOR PRESIDENT
“Delete and fast forward my friend/ the wars are all over and nobody won/ you think it's all ending but it's just setting in/ delete and fast forward my friend.” - Delete and Fast Forward - Willie Nelson-Buddy Cannon.
“I think a song will reach more people than any other thing. There's a reason that it's called ‘harmony': When you play a show, there's an energy exchange with the people that is unimaginable. It's the reason I go out there. I get something out of it too.”
During the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, Nelson called the proceedings “the funniest thing I've ever seen in my life” and wrote Delete and Fast-Forward for God's Problem Child .
“I knew Donald Trump back when he owned some casinos, and I worked for him,” Willie added.
“He always paid me. I had no problems at all.”
But Willie believes Trump “stepped into a different world” as President.
“It's easy when you can just go bankrupt anytime you want to and say, ‘I'll check you later,'” Nelson adds.
“But that's hard to do when you're president of the United States .”
Willie also laughed off Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recent comments about heroin being “only slightly less awful” than weed.
“I wonder if he's tried both of them. I don't think you can really make a statement like that unless you tried it all,” Nelson says.
“So I'd like to suggest to Jeff to try it and then let me know later if he thinks he's still telling the truth!”
GOD'S PROBLEM CHILD ONE FOR THE AGES
“I did the best I could do, but the best I could tell/ the higher I flew the farther I fell/ born in the mud, raised in the wild/ washed in the blood/ God's problem child/ darkness may fall, we still got a light/ keeping us all safe through the night/ heaven must love God's problem child.” - God's Problem Child - Jamey Johnson-Tony Joe White.
Nelson and producer Cannon increased the creative demographic by choosing Little House On The Hill - penned by Buddy's 92-year-old mother Lyndel Rhodes as the album entrée.
It's here that the piano panache of Bobbie and distinct harmonica by Willie's long time harpist Mickey Raphael, 65, are a magic match.
Willie proves he has friends in high places with selection of the Jamey Johnson and Tony Joe White penned God's Problem Child as his title track.
The song features guest vocals by Johnson, White, and Leon Russell who died at 74 on November 13, 2016.
It completed the long link between Willie and duet partner Leon - it was one of the last recordings by Russell who was also the first to autograph the Red-Headed Stranger's famed guitar Trigger.
Willie tackles mortality in collaborations with Cannon on It Gets Easier and Your Memory Has A Mind Of Its Own .
And, of course, there's diverse shades of romance and regret in their co-writes on I Made A Mistake and the evocative True Love.
“When the whole damn thing is over, and we reach our journey's end,” Willie sings on True Love , “I'll leave this world believing in true love, you're still my friend.”
They also tackle gambling and gamboling with all its nuances and cryptic crevices in Lady Luck.
Nelson defers to peers Mike Reid and Sam Hunter for A Woman's Love that credits the male's admission he owes his survival to the superior power and depth of his partner's passion.
The singer also explores romantic fragility in Butterfly from seasoned songsmiths Sonny Throckmorton and Mark Sherrill.
MERLE'S MAGIC MEMORIES
“Got the news this morning / knew it'd be a tough day / some are so much larger than life / can't believe they could pass away / when it comes to country music, he's the world / and it wouldn't be all it is without Merle.”- He Won't Ever Be Gone - Gary Nicholson.
Fellow Texan singer-songwriter Gary Nicholson's evocative He Won't Ever Be Gone tribute to the late Merle Haggard - who died on his 79 th birthday on April 6, 2016 - is a fitting finale for this diverse disc.
The song was accompanied by a vivid video that captured the Californian legend's legacy and importance to Willie and peers.
It includes footage of recording the song with clips from when Haggard recorded their collaborative album Django & Jimmie that gave The Hag his final No. 1 Billboard album in June 2015.
Willie sings of their deep legacy when he sings “We were friends right from the start / we shared some highs and lows/ I would sing some songs he wrote/ and he would sing a few of mine/ music made us brothers 'til the end/ not a day goes by that I don't miss him.”
That relationship reaches back to previous duet albums Pancho & Lefty in 1983 and Seashores Of Old Mexico in 1987 before their 2007 trio album Last Of The Breed with late Texan Ray Price.
They also scored wide exposure for It's All Going to Pot , featuring Jamey Johnson, from Django & Jimmie and Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die from Heroes in 2012.
Willie performed at the Merle 80th birthday tribute show Sing Me Back Home: The Music Of Merle Haggard in Nashville with artists diverse as Sheryl Crow, Miranda Lambert, Kenny Chesney, John Mellencamp, Dierks Bentley, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams Jr., Avett Brothers, Alison Krauss, Ronnie Dunn, Warren Haynes, Jamey Johnson, Kacey Musgraves, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Lucinda Williams, Ben Haggard, John Anderson, Connie Smith, Bobby Bare, Toby Keith, Alabama, ZZ Top‘s Billy Gibbons, Rodney Crowell, Buddy Miller, Jake Owen, Aaron Lewis, Tanya Tucker and Chris Janson.
Nelson also hosts his 44th July 4 picnic in Austin with Kacey Musgraves, Jamey Johnson, Steve Earle, Margo Price, Asleep a t the Wheel, Turnpike Troubadours , Hayes Carll, Sheryl Crow, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Johnny Bush, Billy Joe Shaver, David Allan Coe, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Insects vs. Robots , Raelyn Nelson Band and Folk Uke .
The curtain raiser is Willie's six-city Outlaw Music Festival tour starting July 1 in New Orleans with Bob Dylan, the Avett Brothers, Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, My Morning Jacket, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats , Margo Price, Hayes Carll and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real .
Willie has also recorded To Get Here , penned by Dianne Warren, in advance of the release of Dog Years - the new film in which it appears.
Dog Years debuted during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival on April 22.
Burt Reynolds plays an aging movie star being driven around Tennessee by a young woman played by Ariel Winter, known for her role in Modern Family while trying to figure things out in his life.
The reflection that Nelson is singing about in To Get Here mirrors what Reynolds is feeling in the movie.
It's just 38 years since Willie's acting debut in 1979 movie Electric Horseman - the first of his 43 TV and movie roles.