on December 1, 2004
If you are reading this you probably already know that Willie is one of the most creative, powerful, and diverse performers of all time. In this review, I'm not going to rate the albums, just offer some insights into the CD's and DVD's that I have purchased - and I'm glad I've purchased them all.
"The Essential Willie Nelson" is essential. Be that as it may, Willie's individual CD's are so strong and the songs are so interrelated, often in a story or a tight thematic format, that they almost make the "essential" Willie Nelson unessential - but it is such a great collection of songs, that you can't get as easily any other way. Definitely worth the buy.
"The Red Headed Stranger" is one of the greatest albums of all time. It is pure genius. If you get the 70th birthday edition, you get a remastered track and extra songs. There are no less than six "A" level songs on this CD, nothing short of amazing. Plus, you get fourteen minutes of great story telling. As a story teller, Willie is only rivaled by Native American artist Robert Mirabal ("Indians Indians", "Taos Tales", "Music From A Painted Cave", "Mirabal", etc.).
"Willie and Family Live", done around 1975, is a great live album. It has lots of energy. A highlight for me was Willie Nelson, Emmy Lou Harris, and Johnny Paycheck singing "Amazing Grace" together. It also contains the fourteen minute story of the Red Headed Stranger, including "Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain". This live performance of Willie's first #1 hit is the best I have heard on any album. There is a little extra "oomph" on every song in the CD. Again, make sure you get the 70th birthday edition, it has extra goodies.
If you like the early super hits that Willie wrote for everyone else, like "Crazy", "Night Life", and "Funny How Time Slips Away", then you need to also get the "Milk Cow Blues" CD. Willie performs these and more Blues standards, usually in a duet format, with outstanding artists such as B.B. King - Rolling Stone Magazine's choice as the 3rd greatest guitarist of all time. Hearing BB and Willie strum and sing together on "Night Life" and "The Thrill is Gone" is indeed a thrill. Willie performs this album with a first class Blues band and it is a first class Blues album.
Willie's latest album, "It Will Always Be" is once again a solid piece of work. Duets with Norah Jones and Lucinda Williams help make it special, but the best part of this album is the haunting duet of Willie and Paula Nelson on the song "It Will Always Be". This is a song that hits you in the gut, and it rivals Bruce Springstein's "Streets of Philadelphia" in terms of its raw emotion. A number of people, including me, cried the first time they heard it: "I'm tied of this and I'm running out of time; feels like dyin', feels like cryin'; and I'm running out of time." Say it ain't so, Willie!! A second good song was written by another member of the Nelson clan. The title song is very beautiful. The tribute to the land Willie loves, "Texas", is too short but very meaningful. If this was Willie's last CD, he went out as "The Midnight Rider", a great song for the leader of the outlaw movement: "They ain't gonna catch me, I ain't go let `em catch the Midnight Rider."
"Spirit" and "Teatro" are brother/sister CDs. Both have a strong thematic core, although they are not stories. "Spirit" is one of those rare CD's when every note seems important. For most, you'll listen to it less than the other CD's, but love it equally as much. For a few, you'll play it by the hours. It is essentially a story of coping with lost love, redefining your relationship with yourself and with God, and finding love again. The music and the whole CD are moderately paced, with a strong, steady spiritual tone to it. It has a light Latin sound, essential to Willie's roots. Pictures of Willie on this album look like he came from an ancient Holy Land.
"Teatro" is the mirror of "Spirit". Again, it is a story of coping with lost love, but the story goes south, ending in murder and psychological ruin. Teatro means "theater" in Spanish and this is good to keep in mind in listening to the CD. It is just a play folks! The CD is very hard-hitting, because Willie's music is very hard-hitting and very close to the heart. The music tends to have a lively beat, with strong Latin overtones. Its haunting nature is reinforced by Emmy Lou Harris, who accompanies Willie on most of the songs. The back picture on the back of the CD case is one of the best pictures of Willie ever taken.
The "My Life" DVD is well worth the buy. The story ends before the 90's, but there is a brief update. I knew about Willie and Farm Aid, but I didn't know about the scope of his philanthropy and the diversity of populations targeted in his giving until this DVD. I was also amazed to learn that he paid his $16 million IRS debt off in one year, selling $17 million worth of songs as info-mercials to radio stations. That's a lot of love, translated into a lot of power.
A number of people criticize the "Live In Amsterdam" DVD and some of the criticisms are merited. But hey, the DVD has a large collection of great songs. Some criticisms are not fair. You perform differently and 70 than you do at 40, it is a biological rule. Willie's shows have always moved quickly from one song to the other, so the pace of the concert is nothing new. The love from the audience is shown at the end when Willie is signing autograph after autograph. The bottom line is this, if you like Willie, if you would like to watch him live occasionally instead of just hearing him through the box, and if you want those images of him at 70, then you should buy this DVD. You'll find it worthwhile.
In the final analysis, the raw power of Willie's work, formed by singing in the cotton fields with Black and Mexican laborers, and his keen insight into what people really want in music, formed not through record company analysis but through live performances on the ground, make Willie Nelson one of the most creative, powerful, and loved performers of all time.
on December 21, 2000
This is my all-time favourite country album, period. I can never get tired of hearing it. Willie Nelson is a true musical genius as this album proves. This whole album sounds like it has been pulled out from deep within his soul. It begins and ends with "Matador", an instrumental with a flamenco touch. And in between are wonderfully heart touching songs (and a couple of instrumentals). The songs can make you cry, even if you're not sad, because they really do touch deep within your soul, to those places that can only be touched by beauty such as this album. In fact, Willie is one of the few artists that can make me feel that way. Everybody should own this album, everybody. And I have never said that about any album, ever, up until now.
on September 8, 2011
I along with most of the other reviewers, are fans of Willie Nelson, some more so than others. After all, Willie is an integral part of American Music History. I recently saw him & his band perform in Monroe, Louisiana, on his 2011 Tour. He and his band performed an outstanding concert. It was completely different from this album. However, the official Tee Shirt for his 2011 Tour, has a photo of Willie, with the title Wille Nelson "spirit" on the front, and Willie Nelson 2011 Tour/with Tour dates listed on the back of the shirt. The front photo is identical to the photo & title of this album. At first I thought this must be a new Nelson album, however, after some research I found out it was released around 1996.
Anyway, back to this album, "spirit", it is mild & gentle, basically with the theme of lost love, with songs like: "She is Gone", "You're Memory Won't Die in My Grave", "I'm Not Trying to Forget You Anymore", "I'm Waiting Forever", & "I Guess I've Come to Live Here in Your Eyes". It also has a great mild & gentle instrumental "Spirit of E9", & also a couple of somewhat gospel songs, "Too Sick to Pray", & "I thought About You, Lord". This is great music, when you're in the mood, for this kind of music.
One of the many things that sets this album apart from Willie's other albums is that it was not performed/recorded by all of his regular band. Instead you get the musicians: Willie on lead vocals & guitar, Bobbie Nelson (Willie's sister & regular band member) on piano, Johnny Gimble on fiddle, & Jody Payne on rhythm guitar & harmony vocals.
Overall, I think this is a good album to have, in any solid "American Music" collection. Thanks!!!!