My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘Band of Brothers’

bandofbrothersIn era in which most artists only release new albums every two or three (or more) years, the ever-prolific Willie Nelson is back with a new collection, a mere eight months after the release of To All The Girls … Like all of Nelson’s recent releases for Legacy Recordings, Band of Brothers was produced by Buddy Cannon. It consists of fourteen tracks, eight of which were written by Willie and Cannon.

Band of Brothers is vintage Willie. He thankfully makes no attempts to chase current commercial trends, but manages to make the songs sound fresh and bold, without sounding retro. He serves notice that he’s ready to take on just about anything with the album’s opening track “Bring It On”. “Guitar on the Corner” sounds like a song you think you’ve heard before, but it’s a brand new composition. “The Wall” sounds like the aftermath of “Bring It On”, the bravado having worn off and the protagnist realizing that he’s bitten off more than he can chew. “Wives and Girlfriends” is aperhaps a semi-autobiographical, tongue-in-cheek and slightly (but only slightly) exaggerated account of an apparent glutton for punishment who has had more love affairs than most of us have had hot dinners.

In addition to the aforementioned Nelson/Cannon original compositions, Willie also enlists some help of a few prominent outside songwriters, including Gordie Sampson, Bill Anderson and Billy Joe Shaver. Sampson and Anderson contribute “The Songwriters”, which compares tunesmiths to heroes, schemers, drunks, and dreamers. It’s a perfect vehicle for Willie, one that I mistakenly assumed he’d written himself the first time I heard it. Jamey Johnson joins Willie on Billy Joe Shaver and Gary Nicholson’s “The Git Go”, which although well crafted, is a little too cynical for my liking. I prefer Shaver’s other submission “Hard To Be An Outlaw”, which again is a good match for Nelson.

I’ve often said that Willie Nelson’s voice is an acquired taste and I will readily admit to not being a huge fan when I first became interested in country music in the early 80s. I remember having a conversation with someone who told me to take a moment to appreciate Willie’s skill as a guitarist. It wasn’t enough to win me over as a Willie fan at the time, but over the years I’ve come to realize that the person who told me this was right. Willie remains one of music’s most distinctive pickers and it more than compensates for the occasional moments when his 81-year-old vocal chords let him down. He sounds pretty good on most of the uptempo and midtempo numbers, but the wear and tear is apparent on the ballads, most notably his cover of Vince Gill’s “Whenever You Come Around”. This type of song needs a prettier voice than Willie’s but his guitar picking helps to salvage the track.

Band of Brothers serves notice that Willie Nelson still has plenty to offer in the way of songs that are well played, well written, well produced and mostly well sung.

Grade: A –

One response to “Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘Band of Brothers’

  1. Acca Dacca July 19, 2014 at 12:08 am

    It’s always nice to hear Willie. I’ve not been a fan of his for too long but he’s quickly morphed into one of my favorites. I don’t play his music all that often but when I do it always relaxes me. I haven’t yet had a chance to listen to Band of Brothers but I already have my copy. I’m just waiting for the opportune time.

    As for the fact that he’s still prolific in releasing albums every year and sometimes more than one a year, I have mixed feelings. While it’s nice to have music from an artist you like or admire every year, for those on the outside it can be a bit of a chore to sift through. I’m in my early 20s and was never a Nelson fan until I decided to give his music a chance at my ears and bought The Essential Willie Nelson. That 2 disc compilation contained over 40 tracks and I enjoyed most of them. Naturally, as many people that come to this site are serious music fans many of them would likely frown upon the fact that I chose a compilation as opposed to a studio work for my first foray into the man’s music. However, given that he’s released at least one album every year of his recording career, it’s not exactly feasible.

    For artists with discographies that are as expansive as Willie’s, Waylon’s, George Jones’, Johnny Cash’s, Merle Haggard’s, etc., compilations go from convenient to downright necessary. Plus, it’s no secret that even the best artists have albums with filler and for ones that release albums every year I’ve personally found the filler-to-killer ratio more weighted toward the former on most releases. For every Red Headed Stranger, Honky Tonk Heroes, and At Folsom Prison there’s two or three albums by an artist that, despite having a hit single or two, aren’t worth anybody’s time. The matter gets even more complicated when it comes to country artists because the remaster/reissue/special edition machine that cranks out new editions of classic rock and pop albums doesn’t pay any mind to country music. Too many albums by artists simply aren’t available in any modern format, again making compilations the way to go to get certain songs. Artists like Jerry Reed and Johnny Paycheck have few of their original albums in print but compilations by the boat load. Ironically, the sheer amount of work that these classic guys put out is probably why the reissue machine doesn’t pay them any mind. There’s a distinct difference between a classic rock artist with 15 to 20 albums of varying quality and a country artist with 50 to 70 to even 100 albums of varying quality.

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