Feature Review: Willie Nelson, Heroes

Willie Nelson
[Legacy Recordings (2012)]

Unless you’re among the legion of hardcore devotees who worship everything Willie Nelson has released in recent years, ya gotta admit that the Red Headed Stranger can be uneven at times. Luckily, Heroes doesn’t follow that suit. It’s a tight and focused record recalling disparate elements of Nelson’s 1966’s Country Favorites: Willie Nelson Style and 2004’s poignant It Will Always Be. Heroes is more of a true country record than anything else of late, characterized by reflective lyrics, beautiful melodies and majestic arrangements that revolve around a steel guitar that glistens one moment, chimes the next and soars to the clouds after that. And in the midst of it all, Nelson’s signature splendid finger-picked solos against his nylon guitar strings are still an amazing thing to behold.

A theme of loneliness prevails with “Every Time He Drinks He Thinks of Her” and the waltzing “Hero” that ponders where a former barroom fixture has fallen lately. “A Place to Fly” unveils killer lines such as

A road is like a river that sings when I’m alone
I’m sitting aside a window of light that floods in my eyes
and keeps me from finding my way

Few selections are sung solely by Nelson but are graciously shared with such luminaries as Merle Haggard, Jamey Johnson, Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Price, and Sheryl Crow. Nelson’s son, Lukas, is really showcased here; an up-and-coming roots rocker whose vocals appear on nine tracks and bear a familial resemblance to his father’s, just twang-ier and edgier.

As with any Nelson record, there’s bound to be a reprisal of favorites, such as the pair of Bob Wills’s classics “Home in San Antone” and “My Window Faces the South” that also surfaced on Country Favorites: Willie Nelson Style. These swinging renditions will not have you pining for Country Favorites’ legendary backing squadron, The Texas Troubadours, since they’re equally torrid with steel guitarist Mike Johnson and jazz pianist Jim “Moose” Brown shredding it up. Similarly, Floyd Tillman’s “Cold War with You” that has appeared on several Nelson albums over the decades—with and without co-vocalist Ray Price—is lovely here in its own right.

As in the case of any Nelson record, humor is never far behind. Here it manifests on “Come Back Jesus” where the title catch phrase is followed by ‘and pick up John Wayne on the way,’ a projected world peace savior. Ironically, a few verses later there’s a funnier line about how Wayne could achieve world peace: ‘blow them evil bastards from out past the atmosphere.’ Undoubtedly, the album’s undisputed ‘hit’ will be the outrageous “Roll Me Up” (‘and smoke me when I die’), an open admission to Nelson’s well-documented herb of choice. With Nelson, Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson, and Jamey Johnson all inhaling and passing around lines, the thought of Nelson’s shriveled-up carcass used as a blunt is a strange but funny one but hands down preferable to any imagery conjured by a Naked Willie.

—Dan Willging (Denver, CO)

This is probably NOT an official video ….


3 comments on “Feature Review: Willie Nelson, Heroes

  1. Willie Is my hero. They just don’t get more real than Willie. I’ll add this one to my collection.

  2. I love this cd…It is one of the best Ive heard this year. Some very moving moments.. .buy it..asap.

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