Willie Nelson, born in 1933 in Abbott, Texas, is “recognized worldwide as an American troubadour and icon,” and has “transcended musical genres and has remained relevant through five decades for his music” (“Willie Nelson”). He is one of the greatest artists of all time, and his style of music has shaped both Nashville and Texas country over 50 years of producing music. He is one of the founders of Outlaw Country, a subgenre that broke off in the 1970s where country artists demanded more creative control over their albums, and Nelson’s albums after this reflected his unique style. He began in Nashville as a songwriter, with songs like “Crazy” and “Night Life” becoming hits. His music deals with “love, heartache, rambling, and music-itself,” something that has stayed the same even in his 2014 album Band of Brothers, released at 81 years old (Hermes). His passion for music and conviction for producing the kind of music he wanted to make throughout the years, as well as his charity work and forays into acting, make him still extremely relevant today.
Willie grew up during the Great Depression singing gospel music, got a guitar at age six, and “soon started writing his own songs,” later joining a local band, Bud Fletcher and the Texans (“Willie Nelson”). He moved to Nashville in 1960, when the Nashville Sound was just beginning, and Patsy Cline turned his song “Crazy” into a huge crossover hit. He worked as a songwriter, and it seemed that he himself could not be a successful singer in Nashville, he could only write hit songs for them. He had a “gritty, road-house sound,” and did not fit the traditional mold of the era, and so, in 1970, he returned to his home state of Texas, joining the growing Austin music scene (“Willie Nelson”). Here he developed a huge local following. His early 70s albums Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages did very well on the country charts, but it was his 1975 album Red Headed Stranger that had crossover success and made him known nationally.
Willie Nelson still tours heavily, which is something he really loves to do, often spending hours “signing autographs and meeting people” after a show, showing a “deep commitment to his fans” (“Willie Nelson”). Lately he has been experimenting in other genres, such as reggae, but Band of Brothers is much more traditional Nelson than other recent albums. It is the first album of his in a very long time to feature “predominantly newly penned songs,” because lately he had been doing covers of his old songs (Deusner). Even on some of the tracks he discusses how he was having difficulty writing and felt “burned out by the writing process for years,” like in “Guitar in the Corner” (O’Neill). Band of Brothers is unlike many late in life albums: it is a memoir of his life on the road, unlike other albums of this type like ones by Johnny Cash seek retribution for their sins. It is not inherently happy, because he had hardships from spending a majority of every year on the road in recent years, but it is also something he looks back on very fondly. The track “Band of Brothers” is an “ode to all of those who have joined Willie at one point or another in his musical journey,” and is a celebratory track about said journey (O’Neill).
Other tracks on the album deal with very different things. “Hard to Be an Outlaw” is the most bitter track on the album, and it deals with how new country music being produced in Nashville and played on the radio isn’t country at all, saying “they go and call it country, but that ain’t the way it sounds”. The song is “dark, dirgelike, and out of place” among the happy songs that make up the rest of the album (Deusner). “The Wall” is a triumphant track about a life on the road, it is an autobiographical song that shows how when Willie reflects on his life, he is happy and celebratory about the immense amount of time he spent on tour. Sure, he talks about hitting the wall, implying how occasionally on tour he would feel like he would not be able to go on, but then he says the wall came down, showing how he overcame obstacles. The album ends with the track “I’ve Got a Lot of Traveling to Do” which is Willie looking to the future. If the “first 13 tracks are looking back on a pretty amazing life,” this track is showing how Willie still has a lot of years left in him (O’Neill). He is 81 years old, but shows no signs of slowing down, and will probably be “touring…long after we’re all dead” (Deusner).
This album is one of only three Nelson albums to ever crack the Billboard Top 10, and this could be due to his large fanbase. While Blake Shelton was famously quoted as saying that “old farts” don’t buy country music anymore, which is why the genre is changing, the fact that Willie Nelson’s new album reached number one is testament that this is just not true. With his latest albums, Willie joins a “resurgent crowd of country music greats” who have had major chart successes recently, like Dolly Parton, and Johnny Cash towards the end of his life (Trigger). There is a new trend in country music where older artists who have not been as successful in recent years are releasing albums that end up producing major sales, and young people who previously did not listen to these artists are starting to. Another reason for the release of this album is that Willie’s 2013 album was titled “To All The Girls…”, and was comprised completely of duets with female country stars. This album, on the other hand, is somewhat dedicated to men, with the title of “Band of Brothers”. It is Willie celebrating his life on the road and thanking everyone who has been along for the ride with him.
The album is a response to all the tours Willie has gone on throughout the year, usually playing about “150 to 200 dates a year,” and especially the heavy touring he endured to promote Band of Brothers. His life and career have been very long and unique, with acting, charity work, and forays into other genres of music. Only one of the songs, “Hard to Be an Outlaw,” deals with country music at the time, the others are just Willie writing about his great and interesting life. He still sings about love with an “old-school approach to country songwriting,” and it reflects his very interesting love life through the years (Deusner). His voice has “gained new grain over the years” but continues to remain “indelibly creaky” in his signature singing style (Deusner, Hermes). Overall, the album deals with universal themes: friendship, love, and hardship.
- “Bring it On”
- “Guitar in the Corner”
- “The Wall”
- “Whenever You Come Around”
- “Wives and Girlfriends”
- “I Thought I Left You”
- “Send Me a Picture”
- “Used to Her”
- “The Git Go (feat. Jamey Johnson)”
- “Band of Brothers”
- “Hard to Be an Outlaw”
- “Crazy Like Me”
- “The Songwriters”
- “I’ve Got a Lot of Traveling to Do”
“Willie Nelson.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 9 March 2015.
Deusner, Stephen M. “Willie Nelson Band of Brothers.” Pitchfork. Pitchfork, 20 June 2014. Web. 1 March 2015.
Hermes, Will. “Band of Brothers.” Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone, 19 June 2014. Web. 9 March 2015.
O’Neill, Darren. “An Excellent Album That Shows Willie Can Still Write A Great Song.”Amazon. Amazon, 17 June 2014. Web. 9 March 2015.
Trigger. “Willie Nelson Hits #1 with New ‘Band of Brothers’ Album.” Saving Country Music. Saving Country Music, 25 June 2014. Web. 22 March 2015.