Willie Nelson - A Beautiful Time
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A Beautiful Time (Sony Legacy, 2022)

Willie Nelson

Reviewed by Jeff Lincoln

They say if you love what you do, you'll never have to work a day in your life. Just ask 89-year-old Willie Nelson. Within recent history, he's been releasing records at a clip far younger people can only envy, at over an album a year. A tribute album to Frank Sinatra? Absolutely. Traditional hymns? Sure. Another tribute album to Frank Sinatra? You can't make this stuff up.

Beginning with the 2017 "God's Problem Child" record, Willie started musically pondering the meaning of life. (And given his legendary relationship with certain mind-altering substances, it may not have begun there.) "A Beautiful Time" is the next in this nameless series. While there's moments of great humor on these records, the point is to leave behind some tips and tricks to those of us who don't wake up in nearly 90-year-old feet. Similar to Sturgil Simpson's "A Sailor's God to Earth," they take our common experiences of love, loss and laughter and look for conclusions. So much happens – what's really valuable? What makes us go down the paths we choose (or choose us)?

Nelson is not beyond seeking out the wisdom of other gurus, like Leonard Cohen ("Tower of Song"), to explain how he was enticed into the traveling circus, or Lennon/McCartney "With a Little Help From My Friends." What's most remarkable are the new songs, often penned alongside Buddy Cannon, that sound like old songs. Take any line of advice of "Live Every Day" – it's a shelf-full of self-help books. Most deep is "Energy Follows Thought," a rare consideration on the power of negative thinking. Don't forget that there's lots of smiles to be found on this record, though. Best on that front are "I Don't Go to Funerals /I Won't Be At Mine" and the song about gambling from the perspective of the house: "We're Not Happy 'Til You're Not Happy."

Musically, you probably already know the arrangements – generally sparse with improvised Willie solos abounding via his acoustic best friend, "Trigger." The man and his machine are like the flight of the bumblebee – it shouldn't work, this singer who stays in a tiny vocal pocket playing a nylon-stringed guitar with a flatpick. But we've had enough years to know better. How long can the man and his music continue? Aw shucks, Willie seems to tell us – let's think about some bigger things, and enjoy the smaller ones, too. There's no better tour guide to the road than the outlaw who's seen it all.

CDs by Willie Nelson

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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