Record Of The Week # 130

Willie Nelson – A Beautiful Time

So another Willie Nelson album. Apparently it’s his 92nd in a sixty year recording career, surely he’s got nothing new to say and he’s flagging? Not a bit of it, it’s an absolute triumph. Lyrically interesting (reflective and on occasion amusing) with thoughtful compositions. The band knows more is less and plays beautifully with a variety of paces and arrangements. We’re just left with the unanswerable question of how does he do it?  He must be well past wondering if he’s still cutting it, however, most assuredly he is. 

There are five joint compositions with his producer, Buddy Cannon, and like the remainder of the album these are all crafted. Whilst never maudlin “I Don’t Go To Funerals” is a humorous take on his eventual demise. He’s stating his disinterest in the Departure Lounge and if pressed on the subject he’s focusing on the welcome committee of country legends when he lands. “Don’t Touch Me There” is classic two step country. With a suppressed snare beat the pedal steel gives it a 1950 or 60s feel and Nelson picks some latino acoustic guitar runs. “Don’t touch me there / That’s where my heart lives / And it just ain’t fair /And if you care don’t touch me there”. My kind of country and a perfect two and a half minutes long.

The rest are compositions that fit him like a glove. Shawn Camp’s “A Beautiful Time” – “If I ever get home / I’ll still love the road / Still love the way it winds / Now when the last song’s been played / I’ll look back and say / I sure had a beautiful time”. You can see why it became the album’s title track. It’s a wistful vocal on a slow shuffle of a rhythm with piano underpinning the melody and a pedal steel providing delicious flashes of sentimentality.  “Dusty Bottles” in its title alludes to a certain vintage. This time the fine wine is Nelson, he says “Lord, I miss bein’ young” but wisdom, judgement and memories are attributes he savours and they only come with wrinkles. It’s an acoustic ballad with some melancholy harmonica in the background as he adeptly picks on his guitar.

The two covers include Leonard Cohen’s “Tower Of Song”. If ever there was a song for the older man this is the one: “I ache in the places where I used to play”. References to Hank Williams are also made for a country artist. Nelson’s cover never strays from the original and when you had perfection in the first place then why tinker. Legends are people who keep delivering year after year. Let’s hope there’s more to come. Peerless.

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