Willie Nelson has been routinely busy since 1996 with touring, recording, writing books and more touring. Yet his latest offering is a rarity of sorts in that it's his first true studio album of primarily new material since 1996. And like so much of his material beforehand, Nelson mines very little new ground with this record. That doesn't mean it's not stellar however!
The first song "Bring It On" contains all the hallmarks of a classic Nelson tune, from the deliberate honky tonk flavoring through to the simple but signature work on Trigger, his tattered, ragged acoustic guitar. Meanwhile it's Nelson's ambling delivery on "Guitar In The Corner" (co-written with Buddy Cannon) that is as comforting as any of the icon's earlier material. Even this gem pales compared to the brilliant "The Wall," which glides along better than any diehard fan could envision.
Although the first cover comes in the form of Vince Gill's "Whenever You Come Around," Nelson instantly makes it his own. By this time in the album, one gets the sense this is Nelson's equivalent to Bob Dylan's "Time Out Of Mind," a record by an artist who simply does what he does best despite knowing that while it's not dark yet it's getting there. This is especially true on the timeless, reflective "Send Me A Picture."
Outside of a few songs by Billie Joe Shaver and a song entitled "The Songwriters," co-written by Canadian musician Gordie Sampson, the record's strength lies in Nelson's playful penmanship on "Used To Her" and the humorous "Wives And Girlfriends." If there's one sub-par effort it might be "The Git Go," a bluesy track that Jamey Johnson guests on with so so results. The title track more than atones for that miscue, harkening back to "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" in some respects. It's no surprise that the outlaw tone is followed up by the cold hard truth of "Hard To Be An Outlaw," which pulls no punches on the current state of the music industry.
If there's any doubt that Nelson can't deliver the goods being 81 years young, this record puts those to rest.