Willie Nelson, on his new album Bluegrass pulls 12 songs from his immense catalog, hand picks a group of crack musicians, enlists his long-time producer Buddy Cannon to assist him and then refashions the songs to sound more like the vibrant and resonant Appalachian music that took its name from Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys. It should come as no surprise to anyone with any knowledge of American music that the genre clearly has had a profound effect on Nelson and his superlative songwriting and on the course of country music in general. As a tribute to the genre that originated in the Bluegrass state, this album is outstanding from start to finish.
The truly fascinating thing about it is how closely the original tracks deemed country music already sounded a lot like bluegrass tunes, evidence of the inseparable interspersing and cross-pollination between the two genres. Nelson surely chose these twelve songs to highlight this, but he could have easily selected scores of others from his infinite reserves. That’s how deeply rooted his music is in the genre.
While I hasten to pick highlights on albums like this when I love each and every song if forced to pick I would say I especially enjoy the bluegrass versions of “No Love Around,” “You Left Me A Long, Long Time Ago,” “Good Hearted Woman” (co-written with Waylon Jennings), “Bloody Mary Morning” and “On The Road Again.”
It is a truth of the human condition that we tend to take the beauty and greatness that we perceive in our lives for granted. Our brains surrender to the irrational belief that they will last forever, which often adds to our grievous sense of loss when they inevitably vanish. I believe this is the case when we speak of Willie Nelson, who at 90 years old, will release his SECOND studio album of 2023 (the other one being March’s I Don’t Know A Thing About Love: The Songs Of Harlan Howard ). He is arguably the most prolific musical artist in American music history as Bluegrass will be his 151st album according to Texas Monthly’s interactive All Willie Nelson Albums Ranked list)!
My point is that a living, breathing, tireless example of unparalleled and spectacular artistic superiority still walks the earth with the rest of us in the person of Willie Nelson, even though I sometimes think, even with all of his accolades and honors, that this is not fully recognized or realized by us because he has been creating his music for as long as any of us can remember.
Do yourself an auditory favor and listen to this sparkling jewel of a record that Bluegrass is and then pick a few others from Nelson’s gargantuan catalog and listen to them as well. To do so will be to experience the American songmaster of our lives in action and at work.
Bluegrass by Willie Nelson was produced by Buddy Cannon and will be available this Friday, September 15th on his website at https://willienelson.com/
Credits: Willie Nelson (vocals, acoustic guitar), Barry Bales (upright bass), Ron Block (banjo), Aubrey Haynie (fiddle), Rob Ickes (dobro), Josh Martin (acoustic guitar), Mickey Raphael (harmonica), Seth Taylor (mandolin), Bobby Terry (acoustic guitar, gut string guitar), Dan Tyminski (mandolin); backing vocals are provided by Wyatt Beard, Buddy Cannon, and Melonie Cannon.
Enjoy our previous coverage here: REVIEW: Willie Nelson Live At Budokan Is A Testament To His Greatness