on October 22, 1998
A high school english teacher of mine had a saying, "Gentlemen, brevity is art." This album is as fine an example of this as you will find. Willie Nelson is one of the finest musicians/songwriters that I have ever heard. I am not a country fan as such, but I don't consider Willy to be a country musician, rather, his music is a hybrid of the kinds of music that he was exposed to growing up in Texas. I feel that Willie is as important to music as Dylan and Robert Johnson. On The Red Headed Stranger Willie manages to draw from old time ballads, gospel, blues, bluegrass, folk, Spanish-American and of course country. Musically this album is brilliant in its' simplicity. His guitar playing is sparse, but every note that he plays completely captures the feel of the song. The concertina that appears on a few of the tracks is haunting. His singing is perfect, he plays his voice like an instrument to capture every nuance of every song. Lyrically, this concept album is unbelievable. You don't so much listen to an album as live every step of story. Willy has a way of painting word picture with so few words.
"The bright lights of Denver, are shinin' like diamonds, Like ten thousand jewels in the sky, and it's nobodies business, where you're goin' or where you come from, and you're judged by the look in your eye."
If you are a music fan who has pre-judged Willie based on "On The Road Again" or "To All The Girls I've Loved Before", buy this album. I assure you that it won't be the last Willie album that you buy. Also, if you've never seen Willie live, don't miss him the next time he's anywhere near you.
It takes so many words just to describe this album, how can I give it justice in a review? I suppose to start with saying that music rarely elicits emotion from me. I tend to decide what I like merely by how something sounds on the surface, and with today's music, there isn't much else to go on. Well, on Red Headed Stranger, there is plenty of inherent emotion in every note.
The title song always pains me to hear, especially the moment that the rest of the song foreshadows so well. And when "they dance with smiles on their faces" in "Denver," I want to burst with happiness for our hero. "Hands on the Wheel" is one of the most beautiful love songs I have ever heard.
This story of betrayal, murder, and redemption through re-found love is full of nuance and little touches that are perfect. Nelson uses his voice as another instrument, never taking center stage but always blending in with the minimal guitar and backing, finally letting the piano express its pure joy on "Down Yonder."
These songs, almost all of which were written by different people, come together in an amazingly cohesive package. These choices show an inherent knowledge of storytelling--with its peaks and valleys--that carries throughout the arrangement of the album.
This is one of the great concept albums, and one of the great albums in general, of all time. It belongs in any music fan's library. I am not a country music fan, but I love what has been done with this album. It is a tight, well-told story, told in an inimitable fashion.
on August 11, 2003
I still dig "Phases And Stages" slightly more than this one, but dag nab is it still AWESOME in it's own right.
This is classic, classic music. Willie is an Artist First Class and this is nothing short of genius. Sparse, stripped down, powerful, hauntingly beautiful, these are just a few ways to describe it.
Willie is still putting out relevant music (see 2003's "Run That By Me One More Time" with Ray Price), but Red Headed Stranger is still as good today as it was all those years ago.
One more thought - if you want to see a Concert you'll never forget, go see Willie. Saw him twice in the 1980's, and he still ranks in First Place. Willie Live is Willie at his best!
on September 5, 2000
To me Willie Nelson is an artist who crosses borders, transcends boundaries with no problem. I see him as beyond categorization. I used to think he was a country singer but now I know he deserves the highest praise of all and that is to be called simply a singer.
Red Headed Stranger is a concept album which contains some of the most simple and beautifully written and arranged songs I believe you will ever hear from this near perfect singer. Don't be deceived by their simplicity, though. Allow yourself to fall into this album and make some time for it; don't put it on as backgound noise, but give it attention and have it as foreground MUSIC.
Willie's familiar and homely singing and percussive guitar sound are yet again at the very core of the music here but listen also for Bobbie Nelson's gospel piano at the foundation of most of these songs as well as the beautiful piano accordion which weaves itself in and out some songs here with stunning delicacy.
This remastered version of the album also SOUNDS brilliant. I don't know how the original version sounded or how it was mixed but the clarity of the mix here is superb.
The album also comes with a number of beautiful black and white photographs of Willie and band in the studio recording the album accompanied by an essay by Chet Flippo.
I have only owned this album for a few hours but the music it contains will be important to me for the rest of my life. It is that good.
on July 27, 2000
When this album came out I remember Chet Flippo wrote in Rolling Stone: "I can't recall when an album has had such a hold over me." And it was this way with many other listeners: I remember playing it over and over, mesmerized by its story and music. With cinematic ease, the songs drift by and grab you with their simplicity and power: "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," and "Red Headed Stranger" are moving and violent. "Denver" and "O'er the Waves" take us through the Western dance halls as our hero seeks peace. At the end of "Red Headed Stranger" the hero's journey takes a mystical turn toward redemption. The final few cuts of the newly remastered CD gives us a little more Willie: "Bach Minuet in G," a snippet from the flip side of the 1986 single "Living in the Promiseland" that also appeared in the "Red Headed Stranger" movie and versions of classic tunes by Hank Williams, Pee Wee King and Bob Wills. The new additions take us back out of the cosmos where Willie left us on the old LP ... great extras to a classic album. Along with 1975's "Tonight's the Night" by Neil Young, Springsteen's "Born to Run" and "Blood on the Tracks" by Bob Dylan, this album had quite a hold over me too.
on May 28, 2005
My admiration for this collection is unbounded. It surely stunned the 1970s "country" music world of sentimental, overproduced string arrangements. But I find it bizarre that the Amazon reviewer calls the album mellow and childlike. The melodies are indeed gentle and lyrical, but the arrangement of songs tells of wild despair ("He cried like a baby, / He screamed like a panther in the middle of the night") and psychosis--a preacher, rejected by his lover, becomes a serial killer (one woman dies for daring to touch the horse once ridden by his murdered beloved). This is NOT mellow stuff, and much of its power comes from rediscovering the scary, dark energy of old country murder ballads. Does the sequence end with new love and redemption? Hard to say. But for all the prettiness, Willie's great album is closer to the world of the Harry Smith anthology and Dock Boggs, the kind of stuff Greil Marcus had in mind when he coined the phrase "old, weird America."
on August 4, 2000
I just about wore out my vinyl copy of this recording, and was pleased that it had been remastered and re-released this year. If you already own a copy of the original, I'm not so sure that you need this version - although if you are into this genre at all, this is a must-have album. The remastered version includes the original recording, which reviewers have already described quite well as an incredibly well-written and masterfully performed series of songs about love, loss, rage, and redemption. Highlights include the title track, an achingly beautiful 'Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain', and masterful vocals on 'I Couldn't Believe it was True' - Willie has always been one of the finest vocal stylists in the business, and sometimes, if you use your imagination, you can just see his eyes squint Eastwood-style when he sings. The new CD contains 4 additional tracks which feel a bit 'tacked on', perhaps subtracting a bit from the purity of the original, but fine tunes nonetheless. The new liner notes by Chet Flippo are a welcome bonus extra.
Someone once said that it took the Carter Family three minutes with their song 'Little Moses' what it took Cecil B. DeMille three hours to do with his movie 'The Ten Commandments'. Same here - you can listen to this record and dispense with about three dozen spaghetti westerns.
A classic C&W recording, but if you already own the original, you may want to hold what you got.
on May 19, 2006
I think Willie is a great singer but he has never been a personal favorite. This album, though, is among my favorites. In it, he demonstrates his skills as a lyricist, he mellow voice and his ability to narrate a song.
Much of this work sound like it could come right from out of the old west. This differentiates it from much of country music which is simply rural but modern. There are exception but the feeling of timelessness. These tunes and songs have a "classic" style. They are wonderful.
This is an old album. I used to have the 8 track. It is still worth it.
on July 29, 2003
25 years ago my heartbroken buddy introduced me to this magnificent recording after his recent divorce. Problem was for him that there was no cheating, just a beautiful, bored, brainless, drug addled wife throwing in the towel after a 6 month marriage. In spite of incongruous situations as far as the details go, my friend never-the-less found great solace in the music of "Red Headed Stranger." He especially enjoyed the killing songs. I also enjoy them, though I too, have no real vengence to collect on. There's something in human nature that Willie Nelson touches here, those love, betrayal, revenge, and redemption themes that the other reviewers refer to. Overall, this album has the best story-line of any concept album. And trust me, you don't have to be tormented to enjoy this music. It's simply sublime. Most solo Willie Nelson albums leave you with a couple of good songs and a lot of forgetable filler, never a good bargain given his less than perfect vocal ability. But this one is his crown jewel - a must have. In comparison, I find the music and performance of another celebrated concept album, "Honky Tonk Heroes" (Waylon Jennings sings, Billy Joe Shaver wrote), more beautiful and unified. For a truly gifted female voice in a concept album, try Emmy Lou Harris' "Ballad of Sally Rose." Collect all three and you have about 10% of what you need for the essential country music collection.
on August 22, 2001
Genius and undying brilliance like the bright lights of Denver--Red Headed Stranger is so perfect it at times borders on timeless otherworldliness. Wake up America, this is a quintessential masterpiece from one of the greatest music legends the country has produced. If ever we as a nation grow tired of Francis Scott Key's anthem, consider it justice for all if Willie wrote the next one. Red Headed Stranger is the one to take with you through all your stops and struggles in life. Themes of religion, sin, love, and salvation loom large here like a Texas sky; realize and recognize Willie as The Apostle years before Robert Duvall's masterful performance. Classical in its form, country stripped bare from the bars to the dusty road, gospel in its tone, blues in its essence, this recording transcends comparison.