Willie Nelson - Red Headed Stranger
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Red Headed Stranger (Columbia/Legacy, 2000)

Willie Nelson

Reviewed by Dan Williams

"Stranger" may be Willie Nelson's masterpiece; a milestone of progressive country that stands as tall today as it did upon its 1975 release. It was the success of this album and of those like "The Outlaws" compilation that paved the way for personal, idiosyncratic country records, but it's doubtful that a major label would touch it today. It's too spare and soulful; too gloriously and unrepentantly alive.

This was Nelson's first record for Columbia and the first in his career in which he enjoyed complete creative control. It's a concept album - a loosely-connected cycle of songs that follow an itinerant preacher who commits a murder, falls from grace and searches for salvation. Awash in imagery of sin and redemption, memory and loss, it's easily as steeped in the Old Testament as any Johnny Cash album. And it coheres beautifully; the repeated "Time Of The Preacher" refrain linking such mournful laments as "I Couldn't Believe It Was True" and the title track. Industry suits deemed this record dead on arrival; it must have been a major awakening when the sublime "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain" became his first number one single.

"Stranger" still sounds like a revelation 25 years and 3 million copies since its release baffled Nashville. Existential Texas country blues don't come any better than this.

CDs by Willie Nelson

The Border, 2024 Bluegrass, 2023 Don't Know A Thing About Love, 2023 A Beautiful Time, 2022 That's Life, 2021 First Rose of Spring, 2020 Ride Me Back Home, 2019 My Way, 2018 Last Man Standing, 2018 Willie's Stash Volume 2, 2017 God's Problem Child, 2017 Summertime Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin, 2016 Band of Brothers, 2014 To All the Girls..., 2013 Let's Face the Music and Dance, 2013 Freedom, 2012 Remember Me Vol. 1, 2011 Country Music, 2010 American Classic, 2009 Lost Highway, 2009 Naked Willie, 2009 One Hell of a Ride, 2008 Moment of Forever, 2008 Songbird, 2006 Live From Austin, TX, 2006 Songs of Cindy Walker, 2006 You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker, 2006

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