Willie Nelson has a problem. It’s not weed; it’s age. Like Paul McCartney, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young before him—or after him, even—Nelson is running up against the burden of his own material. Simply put: He’s got too many great songs.
Having written and recorded so many winners is a blessed burden to have, for sure, but it’s also entirely real. Nelson’s latest record, Band Of Brothers, is his 48th full-length LP, his first being 1962’s …And Then I Wrote. He’s written and recorded dozens of timeless and amazing songs over the past 50 years, including but not limited to tracks like “Crazy,” “Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain,” “Always On My Mind,” “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before,” “Whiskey River,” “City Of New Orleans,” “Roll Me Up,” “Me And Paul,” and “On The Road Again,” and he’s become an icon not only for his music but also for his lefty politics in his old age. So where does he go from here?
Band Of Brothers is an attempt to answer that question. The record is Nelson’s first composed predominantly of original material since 1996’s Spirit and contains nine entirely new songs. While nothing on the record is as rollicking as any of Nelson’s old outlaw material, it’s made up of solid tracks all the same. The first single, “The Wall,” is actually the album’s weakest track, its repeating chorus getting a little stale with time. In contrast, tracks like “I Thought I Left You,” “Wives And Girlfriends,” and “Crazy Like Me” are sharp and funny, with Nelson’s famous wit shining through on lines like “I love my wives and I love my girlfriends, but may they never meet.” Nelson also goes for the heart on mortality-focused tracks like “Guitar In The Corner,” musing, “The past is just a smoke ring in the air.” Nothing on Band Of Brothers ever really rises above the loping pace of “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain,” but that’s okay, especially considering Nelson is more of a stoner than a shit-starter at this point in his career.
Band Of Brothers’ highlight is “The Songwriters,” a track written not by Nelson but by Gordie Sampson and Bill Anderson. Detailing both the plight and the prowess of a songwriter for hire, the track works as an apt ode to Nelson’s entrance into country music all those years ago, with Sampson and Anderson’s words accurately describing Nelson (and others) as “schemers, lovers, sometimes fighters,” and as both “true love but mostly one-nighters.”
Unfortunately for Nelson, Band Of Brothers isn’t the country legend’s best album of all time. It’s pretty good at best, a must only for reasonably hardcore Nelson fans. Fortunately for the music-listening public, though, that’s just fine. Band is hardly Nelson’s first (or last?) record, and there are plenty of other songs and records from the Red Headed Stranger to check out should this particular LP not hit home for any given listener. All that material might be a burden for Nelson, but for listeners, it’s a blessing.