sun 26/05/2024

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

Album: Willie Nelson - The Willie Nelson Family

Album: Willie Nelson - The Willie Nelson Family

God's own country music

Country music and the Lord: an easy relationship

The Outlaw meets Jesus, at least on CD. The Willie Nelson Family finds The Red Headed Stranger singing some of country-gospel’s most celebrated songs, including Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light”. It’s his second album of 2021 – the first, That’s Life, released in February, was a beguiling collection of Frank Sinatra covers.

Willie Nelson will turn 90 next April, and doubtless like most folks his age his thoughts turn to the day he will meet his Maker. But whatever your age, God is never far away from country music – sung about as one of the family. And that easy relationship is what gives albums such as this their appeal. The music is not cloying or super-reverential, as "Keep It On the Sunnyside" by the great A P Carter amply demonstrates. God is simply part of the conversation. Dolly Parton likes to say she talks to him all the time but she’s not sure he always listens! It’s kind of casual.

Five of the songs are Nelson’s own, including “I Thought About You, Lord” and “Too Sick to Pray”. He revisits “The Family Bible” recorded originally in 1971 on Yesterday’s Wine, and long a concert staple. The song is still sometimes credited to Claude Gray, Paul Buskirk & Walt Breelan to whom Nelson sold it in 1957 for just $10!  

For me the album’s highlight is “All Things Must Pass”, the title track from George Harrison’s first solo post-Beatles album. Son Lukas Nelson takes the lead vocal, his distinctive clear tenor carrying the song aloft, the harmonies perfect. A wonderful reminder that there’s much more to Harrison than “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun”.

Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me Lord”, often seen as a plea for redemption by the man who wrote “Sunday Morning Coming Down” – indeed, it's really the mirror image of that song – is a magnificently understated closer to the album.

In addition to Lukas, Nelson is joined by sister Bobbi, son Micah, daughters Paula and Amy Nelson, plus longtime bandmates Mickey Raphael, Billy English, Kevin Smith, and Paul Smith. The latter was Nelson’s drummer – the two men had played together since 1955. He died last year aged 87, and four tracks on The Willie Nelson Family, including "Laying My Burdens Down", another Nelson composition, are among the last recordings the two men made together.

It's a warm and comforting album that requires belief in no deity to appreciate it. Just the Nelson family making great music together. Genuine, no frills. Let’s hope Willie doesn’t get called aloft just yet.

Liz Thomson's website

God is simply part of the conversation


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article


I think you meant Paul English, not Paul Smith. He was Willie's drummer from 1955 until he passed last year. His brother Billy English is now touring with him on drums.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters