Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#702 in the Series) is Willie Nelson, Heroes
I know what you’re thinking. The world needs another Willie Nelson album about as much as they need another repackaging of The Knack Greatest Hits. The “All Music” site alone lists 85 albums by the “Red Headed Stranger,” and in the 50 years since his first release in 1962 it was only twice, once in 1964 and then again in 1991, where some sort of a Willie Nelson recording was not released in a calendar year.
Of course, with the type of fertile productivity that would make the “octo-mom” blush, there are bound to be a few miss-hits along the way. The idea of combining Willie’s country crooning with Jamaican rhythms on his 2005 release Countryman may have appealed to Willies herb smoking sensibilities and enhanced his image as the non- medical marijuana king of the pot smoking universe, but it was for the most part an unlistenable mess. The Rainbow Connection including such ear uninspiring classics as “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover”, and “I’m My Own Grandpa”, is an album that may have set country music back a good 50 years, which would take the genre back to approximately back to 1885 if you’re scoring at home.
The classics including the iconic Red Headed Stranger and the beautifully subtle Shotgun Willie are indeed worthy additions to any country music album collection. And then, there are some real lesser known pearls to be shucked from the Nelson canon including his first turn at the blues on Milk Cow Blues where he does a GREAT version of The Thrill is Gone, and a surprisingly cool turn on the Stevie Ray classic, “Texas Flood,” along with Teatro, a Daniel Lanois under-appreciated and under listened-to gem of an album.
And now in 2012 we have Heroes, a sort of return to real country music and the musical form upon which the foundation for the Willie Nelson statue that was recently erected outside of the new Austin City Limits musical venue was built. Following somewhat the mold of 2010’s Country Music and the uber-excellent Remember Me, Vol. 1, released in 2011, this latest release has a classic country-centric feel to it in parts, and an artist’s favorite songs vibe in others, with covers from such diverse artists as Tom Waits, Coldplay, and Pearl Jam. The resulting gumbo is mostly tasty and at times seemingly somewhat disjointed, but it all comes together nicely in the end. The album highs are high enough, the lows are more limbo stick low than snake belly low, and the mostly brilliant choices as collaborators make the whole thing a supremely enjoyable feast.
The Album, originally intended to be released under the title “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I die,” referencing the track that features Billy Joe Shaver, Kris Kristofferson, and in a pungent vocal turn of sublime serendipity, Snoop Dogg. Yes, that Snoop Dogg. What the heck, if that guy from Hootie and the Blowfish can turn into a country star so can my man Snoop. Stay tuned for his soon to be released duet with Taylor Swift on “Gin & Juice.” This song is actually good and definitely worth a listen.
One of the Nelson sons, Lukas Nelson, appears on no less than 9 tracks on the album. Vocally the nelson sibling sounds like Jimmie Dale Gilmore, who in turn sounds like Willie Nelson on helium, a combination that would essentially sound like every Outlaw Country act on helium. This is a round-about and polite way of saying that the Jr. Nelson sounds good when paired with Daddy but the stand alone Lukas Nelson is not quite as ear inspiring.
One of the standout tracks on the album is the opener “A Horse Called Music” with a featured performance by “Mighty” Merle Haggard. This song, culled from a previous album of the same name, is one of those buried treasure types of songs and a beautifully crafted tour-de-force that is very much a biographical portrait.
The human Country Song himself, Billie Joe Shaver, takes a turn on “Come on Back Jesus,” ripped right out of today’s headlines and profiles another Willie sibling, Micah Nelson on guest vocals. “Come on back Jesus, and pick up John Wayne on the way.” If only we could.
The two contemporary covers, the Pearl Jam cover “Just Breathe”, and the Coldplay song “The Scientist” are adequate versions with “The Scientist” in style sounding a bit like an albino-like very pale comparison to the Johnny Cash now legendary version of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt”.
Texas Swing is supremely represented with a very tight version of “Home in San Antone” and “Cold War With You” with Ray Price. The testosterone is dialed back up a bit with Sheryl Crowe appearing on “Come on Up to the House”, the Tom Waits penned song, and “Hero” with vocal turns by Billy Joe Shaver and Jamey Johnson is a definite center piece song.
Recorded in a “live Feel” fashion at Nelson’s Pedernales studios in Austin this is the first record under his new Sony Contract. If this album is any indication good things are definitely ahead for Texas Icon, Willie Nelson, The Red Headed Stranger.
- A Horse Called Music (Carson) 4:38
- Roll Me Up (Alves, Cannon, Colgin, McQuerry) 3:26
- That’s All There Is to This Song (Cannon) 3:03
- No Place to Fly (Nelson) 5:08
- Every Time He Drinks He Thinks of Her (Nelson) 2:49
- Come on Up to the House (Brennan, Waits)5:16
- Hero (Nelson) 4:39
- My Window Faces the South (Livingston, Parish, Silver) 2:33
- The Sound of Your Memory (Nelson, Rainey) 6:11
- Cold War with You (Tillman) 4:05
- Just Breathe (Vedder) 4:03
- Home in San Antone (Rose) 4:10
- Come on Back Jesus (Cannon, Nelson, Nelson) 3:25
- The Scientist (Berryman, Buckland, Champion, Martin) 5:05
- Willie Nelson – guitar, vocals
- Buddy Cannon – bass guitar and acoustic guitar, background vocals on “Heroes”
- Melonie Cannon – background vocals on “Heroes”
- Butch Carr – synthesizer
- Steve Brewster – drums
- Jim Brown – piano, Wurlitzer, B-3 organ
- Tony Creasman – drums
- Sheryl Crow – vocals
- Kevin Grantt – bass
- Kris Kristofferson – vocals
- Merle Haggard – vocals
- Jamey Johnson – vocals
- Mike Johnson – steel guitar
- Lance Miller – background vocals on “Heroes”
- Lukas Nelson – vocals, guitar, electric guitar
- Micah Nelson – vocals
- Ray Price – vocals
- Mickey Raphael – harmonica
- Paul Shaffer – B-3 organ
- Billy Joe Shaver – vocals
- Snoop Dogg – vocals
- Bobby Terry – electric guitar, acoustic guitar
Here’s Willie on the story of Heroes
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