By Roger Sharman
There are very, very few folks in this world who can be considered to be true musical royalty. Willie Nelson, George Strait, Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn are the ones that immediately spring to mind that we are fortunate enough to have with us still.
Now we already have a King – King George Strait. However, because Willie has been around longer than George, has been more prolific and is a better songwriter (in my opinion) that makes Willie the King, even though there are many that would disagree with me.
I remember back at the start of Covid-19, being really concerned about the likes of Willie, Dolly, Kris and many others surviving. Whilst we have lost far too many folks across all walks of life, many legends have left to perform in that great theatre in the sky. I consider us to be very lucky that the likes of those previously mentioned have survived over eighteen months of the endemic.
These guys aren’t national treasures, they are global treasures, wonders of the world, and irreplaceable. We should enjoy them for as long as we possibly can as there will come a day in the not-too-distant future when we will have to live in a world without Willie.
The gathering of the Nelson clan for this release almost feels like some sort of preparation for the inevitable, although Willie hasn’t slowed down yet (this being his third full length release in sixteen months), with all the commitments each family member has, there may never have been another opportunity to put this project together
Son’s Lukas and Micah, daughters Amy and Paula, and elder sister, Bobbie, who will turn ninety-one in January, have united to record this long player. They have been joined by long time band members Mickey Raphael, Kevin Smith and brothers Billy and Paul English (who passed in 2020).
It’s made up of classic gospels songs, with a mixture of covers and originals from over the years, that have been important to Willie throughout his life, such as Hank William’s ‘I Saw the Light’, Kristofferson’s ‘Why Me’ George Harrison’s ‘All Things Must Pass’ and the Carter Family’s ‘Keep on the Sunny Side’.
Even at eighty-eight years old, the marbles are still there, as is the unique vocal style, Lukas probably being the closest likeness to dad that there’s ever been, and of course his trusty old companion and guitar, Trigger, which has been part of the family for over fifty years.
Willie provides lead vocals on most of the tracks with the exception of ‘All Things Must Pass’ and ‘Keep on the Sunny Side’, where Lukas takes centre stage, almost like the start of a transition period in which Lukas is elevated to the head of the family.
‘Heaven and Hell’ is an inspired selection to open the album, it’s typical Willie, with Bobbie showing she’s still got it on the ivories, and Mickey Raphael’s masterful Harmonica once more perfectly complimenting Willie’s vocals.
Similarly, on ‘Kneel at the Feet of Jesus’ which has a real jazzy, soulful feel to it. Bobbie is on fire on the album, undoubtedly the star of the show throughout.
Other standouts on the album for me are the closer, a stunning version of ‘Why Me’, Kristofferson’s Hymn, where you can’t help but be moved, and Lukas shows the versatility of style and portability of his vocals, and ‘In Gods Eye’, where Willie’s voice is probably the best it’s been in the last couple of records.
All in all, this album is jam-packed full of sentimentality from start to finish. It will have you reflecting on mortality, rejoicing at mortality, crying at the thought that it can’t go on forever. I just wish that the album had finished with ‘Keep on the Sunny Side’ as I think that would finish off the emotional journey in a happier fashion, the way in which we feel when we think of Willie Nelson, now and forever. Amen.