Willie Nelson – The Willie Nelson Family (Legacy Recordings)
On Willie Nelson’s – and I’m guessing here, six hundredth album? – the formerly redheaded stranger and quite possibly America’s greatest musical export churns out another dozen tracks, mostly covers, songs he’s recorded before and many he’s been playing live for years, and it still manages to be a deeply satisfying listen for the most part.
As the title implies, Nelson opened his studio doors to family members- including his sister Bobbi, sons Lukas and Micah, and daughters Amy and Paula. He also brings in plenty of extended family members including longtime bandmates. While not technically billed as a Gospel record most if not all the tracks here have strong spiritual themes, whether it’s Nelson and family covering the traditional “In The Garden,“ their take on Hank Williams’ “I Saw The Light” or Nelson’s own compositions like “Family Bible.” Two of the more inspired covers are their take on George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me.”
While Willie takes lead vocals on most of the songs here, the two exceptions are on “All Things Must Pass” and “Keep It On The Sunnyside,” where Lucas takes over at the mic. And while the Harrison cover sounds great, “Keep It On The Sunnyside” is a little uninspired. The album closes on a stunningly beautiful version of “Why Me.”
Unlike some of Nelson’s more stripped-down music of late, there is a fullness to many of the songs here thanks to Bobbi’s piano, longtime drummer Paul English’s steady beat and Mickey Raphael, whose unmistakable harmonica can be heard throughout. This is Nelson’s last collaboration with English who passed away in February 2020. Many of the songs here have been recorded by Willie in some version or another on other albums going back decades – in the case of “Family Bible,” plenty of times – but that doesn’t manage to take away from how solid this album.
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