sun 20/09/2020

Album: Willie Nelson - First Rose of Spring | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Willie Nelson - First Rose of Spring

Album: Willie Nelson - First Rose of Spring

Lockdown has made us all a little crazy - Willie Nelson will soothe our souls

Listening to Willie Nelson’s latest album is like pulling on a pair of beloved beat-up cowboy boots.

Listening to Willie Nelson’s latest album is like pulling on a pair of beloved beat-up cowboy boots. The declarative vocal over simple guitar, a touch of Hammond, a plaintive harmonica and then one of those characteristic country music key changes… and of course a distinctive Nelson guitar solo on his battered old nylon-stringed Martin. The song which gives the album its title is the opener and immediately you’re swept away.

First Rose of Spring is Nelson’s seventieth solo studio album (there’s a score of others) and it was originally scheduled for release in April as he turned 87. Breathing problems forced him to cancel some tour dates last year and as a result he’s given up smoking. The album finds him very much on song. His is a unique voice, instantly recognisable – the sonic equivalent of a face on Mount Rushmore. It’s remarkably secure for a man of his years, even on the melismata, and his clear diction means he’s always the perfect storyteller, whether singing his own classic songs or those of others. Rose features two new numbers co-written with producer Buddy Cannon, another of country music’s greats: "Blue Star" and "Love Just Laughed."

Nelson is ever the outlaw, and two songs play to that image: “I’m the Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised”, and “I’ll Break Out Again Tonight”, in which a man “in stripes” dreams of life on the outside in a classic slice of two-chord country. As for “Just Bummin’ Around”, you half expect to hear Patsy Cline’s voice in this wonderfully retro soft-shoe shuffle. There’s a beguiling honky-tonk account of Toby Keith’s “Don’t Let the Old Man In”, with its homespun advice (“Try to love on your wife/ And stay close to your friends/ Toast each sundown with wine”) which Nelson has certainly heeded. Yet from the poignant title track on, there’s an inevitable sense of mortality about the album, emphasized by its closing track, a cover of the old Charles Aznavour & Herbert Kretzmer number. But “Yesterday When I Was Young” is sung with defiance as well as resignation and the arrangement is gorgeous, Nelson’s guitar picking preceding the entry of lush strings, harmonica, and pedal steel.  

Nelson won’t “go gentle” anywhere, and hopefully not for a long time. In the last few long weeks, many of us have come a bit “unravelled”, as he sings in “Our Song”, and this is an album to help put us all back together. First Rose of Spring is an album that won’t ever lose its bloom.

Nelson’s is a unique voice, instantly recognisable – the sonic equivalent of a face on Mount Rushmore

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