mon 22/07/2024

Album: Willie Nelson - The Border | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Willie Nelson - The Border

Album: Willie Nelson - The Border

Country’s ageless outlaw strikes gold again on album No. 152

'Willie’s vocals sound and feel remarkably ageless, both as a singer and a guitarist'

At 91, Willie Nelson is about to tour the US with The Outlaws, AKA Minnesota youngster Bob Dylan, 83, the even younger Robert Plant, 75, with Alison Krauss, a mere 52, and 72-year old John Mellencamp (plus a trio of 21st century artists in Celisse, Southern Avenue and Britney Spencer). 

Willie’s setlist contains songs that are older than some of those artistes, but you can bet a silver dollar that one or two from his excellent new album, The Border, will stray out onto the stage with him and his fabled guitar, Trigger.

There’s a wonderful and affecting song here about dreaming of being Hank Williams’ guitar, being held through the night by the man as he composes one of his songs, the immortal, “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, before heading off in the morning in that fateful blue Cadillac, pulling out of Montgomery, and he wasn’t coming back. It’s not Willie’s song – his co-writer and producer Buddy Cannon wrote it with Alabama-born Bobby Tomberlin, but it fits right in to Willie’s pocket like a blunt wrapped round a golf ball.

Opener and title song “The Border” is another fine, affecting first-person narrative song, about a border guard of Mexican descent, from the pen of fellow Texans Rodney Crowell and Allen Shamblin. Willie also covers Crowell’s Eighties hit “Many a Long and Lonesome Highway”, plugging into shuffling road mode, Mickey Raphael’s tumbleweed of harmonica drifting across a vocal that sounds as old as the road is long, but aside from a deeper vocal timbre, and a touch of gravel in that timbre, Willie’s vocals sound and feel remarkably ageless, as immediately identifiable as his languid sense of time, both as a singer and a guitarist.

Thankfully, we get to hear plenty of Willie’s fingerwork on the magical Trigger, his road-worn, pot-holed guitar, and the resulting down-home ambience is reminiscent of two of his great solo albums, Spirit and Teatro, from the early 1990s. His partnership with Buddy Cannon goes back to 2008’s Moment of Forever album, and as co-writers, from an overnight text Canon received from the singer that simply read “roll me up and smoke me when I die”. The song of that named was released on 4/20 Day, and appeared on 2012’s Heroes. They’ve since written dozens of songs and worked on 15 albums together, and the modus is unchanged – Buddy gets texts from Willie, perhaps at odd hours of the night, and those lines form the vertebrae of the subsequent songs. And they’re often very funny.

There are four of their songs here, including the gorgeous “Once Upon a Yesterday”, which flirts and plays with sentimentality the way Willie’s unique phrasing plays with that backbone of our universe, time. And it is about time, and memory, and the Zen points scattered between them, and the rhymes that unite them. Bobby Terry’s steel guitar is perfectly placed, and it’s a highlight among highlights – I’m happy to confirm this album is filler-free. Another high point is “Kiss Me When You’re Through”, which is studded with telling detail from a love affair heading down the wrong street into a dead-end neighbourhood, where the only light burning is the singer’s own. The song’s musical arrangement carries something ominous in it, the threat of a storm, maybe.

To close this 10-song set, his and Cannon’s “How Much Does It Cost” has him ruminating on the price of freedom, truth, and maybe writing one more hit song. Killer couplet? "I’ll pay for it all, what the heck. Oh, by the way, you take a cheque?” (Only the seniors on the Outlaw bill will have any clue as to what a cheque actually is).


Willie’s vocals sound and feel remarkably ageless, as immediately identifiable as his languid sense of time, both as a singer and a guitarist


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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