My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘A Horse Called Music’

a horse called musicFrom the middle of the 1980s, as Willie hit his 50s, his sales slowed down and radio play became more erratic. After ‘Living In The Promiseland hit the top of the Billboard country chart in 1986, his next few singles failed to crack the top 20, until a Julio Iglesias duet (‘Spanish Eyes’) from another of his standards albums reached #8 in 1988.

Released in 1989, the likeable mid-tempo ‘Nothing I Can Do It Now’, written by Beth Nielsen Chapman, was to be Willie’s last ever #1 hit single. A bright optimistic mood is set by Willie’s sprightly vocal and the chugging tempo, as the protagonist decides regretting his mistakes is pointless:

I could cry for the time I’ve wasted
But that’s a waste of time and tears

Chapman sings harmony vocals. She also wrote ‘If My World Didn’t Have You’, a very pretty romantic ballad with a string arrangement, which might have been better suited to a more conventionally ‘pretty’ vocalist.

The strings come close to swamping the album’s second single ‘There You Are’, a desolate ballad about being blindsided by memories of a lost love. It peaked at #8.

Although it did not do well on the charts, the third and final single, ‘The Highway’ (written by Tom Conner and Richard Wesley) is an excellent song, perhaps my personal favourite on the album. A thoughtful, but not regretful, reflection on a middle-aged trucker’s life and the paths not taken – contrasting his roadside bar friendships with the lives of childhood friends left behind, from the classmate sent to die in Vietnam to those working out their lives in low-wage manual labor, which the protagonist clearly finds a fate worse than death.

Also great is the title track, an atmospheric and touching Western story song (written by Wayne Carson) recounting the tale of an ageing cowboy who has lost in love.

Willie himself wrote just three songs on the album. The best of these is ‘Mr Record Man’, a traditional country shuffle about a lonely man finding fellow feeling in lonesome country songs. ‘Is The Better Part Over’ is a heavily strung jazzy ballad about calling it quits on a relationship once the thrill has gone. ‘I Never Cared For You’ pre-emptively tackles his beloved’s doubts of his honesty.

The introspective arty ‘If I Were A Painting’ and the minor-keyed ‘Spirit’ are well-written songs but lacking melody, are rather boring.

Overall, the high points outweigh the less stellar songs here, and it’s worth picking up as a late example of Willie’s commercial period.

Grade: B+

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One response to “Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘A Horse Called Music’

  1. Luckyoldsun October 25, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    I have to confess: I never did understand the title song, “A Horse Called Music.”
    But Randy Travis keeps recording it, and he’s not exactly known for doing psychedelic or abstract material, so it must make sense.

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