There’s practically no single genre that Willie Nelson hasn’t engaged with over the course of his 60 plus year career, so it’s hardly surprising that he’d venture into bluegrass, a style that suits his music both effortlessly and effectively. Consequently, this replay of classic songs from Willie’s repertoire differs very little from the earlier takes, despite the obvious addition of the standard bluegrass regalia consisting of fiddle, banjo, and mandolin.
In truth, despite his outlaw reputation, Willie has always held true to authentic country tradition. His songs embody the hope, humor, and enthusiasm that comes from making music drawn from down home designs. Little adjustment was needed, although certain songs — Still Is Still Moving To Me, Bloody Mary Morning, No Love Around, On the Road Again, and A Good Hearted Woman emphasize the more obvious elements consistent with a genuine bluegrass delivery.
On the whole however, most will find this an abbreviated greatest hits of sorts, one that consolidates his songbook while serving as a reminder of the contributions he’s made to American music through songs and stories. Whatever the reason, it’s a good listen, given the fact that at age 90, Nelson’s still in fine form. Any other considerations aside, his voice sounds as expressive as ever, which, in a way, is a revelation all its own.
To assist Willie on this new project, Nelson and producer Buddy Cannon have chosen from among Nashville’s bluegrass royalty, and put together a studio band of the highest caliber. Ron Block is on banjo, Seth Taylor and Dan Tyminski on mandolin, Aubrey Haynie on fiddle, Rob Ickes on reso-guitar, Barry Bales on bass, and Josh Martin and Bob Terry on guitars. Mickey Raphael adds harmonica, and Buddy Cannon and his daughter Melanie sing harmony.
Given Bob Dylan’s recent revisit of his earlier catalog courtesy of his new album, Shadow Kingdom, one could consider Bluegrass another example of an artist choosing to remake selected songs from a storied catalog. It’s hardly a surprise; Nelson’s made multiple albums revolving around popular standards, and this particular set of songs easily qualify as equally consequential.
Regardless, given the current popularity bluegrass has garnered, one can hardly blame Willie for taking further opportunity to exploit his well-stocked resume. With approximately 100 albums to his credit, often including multiple new releases within the same year, no one could ever accuse him of being a slacker. No matter whether it’s blue or any other hue, the grass is always greener as far as Willie’s ambitions and indulgence are concerned.