Legacy Recordings announced last week that Willie Nelson will release a new studio album on Tuesday, April 16, two weeks shy of Willie’s eightieth birthday. (Actually, Legacy announced last week that the album would come out on the 15th, but that was a typo; albums are almost always released on Tuesdays.) Credited to “Willie Nelson and Family” (the name of a 1971 Willie studio album), Let’s Face the Music and Dance features Willie, his sister Bobby, his son Micah, brothers Paul and Billy English, Nelson mainstay Mickey Raphael, Bee Spears replacement Kevin Smith, and session organist Jim “Moose” Brown performing one Willie tune (“Is the Better Part Over”) and a baker’s dozen of standards, including Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” Frank Loesser’s “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So,” and Al and Morty Nevins’s “Twilight Time.”
If you’re a regular reader of Texas Monthly and you think that trio of classic songs sounds familiar, you’re probably right—when senior editor Michael Hall was reporting his recent profile of Willie’s guitar, Trigger, he spent time watching the band record those very songs. Here’s Hall’s description of one take he witnessed:
He cradled the guitar in his lap, pulled out a pick, and began to play. The song was one of his favorites, Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” a melancholy instrumental that was popular in France during the Nazi occupation. Willie knows every square centimeter of Trigger, and the fingers on his left hand ascended the rough fretboard and played the high yearning riff that begins each verse, then descended, gently following the melody as the fingers on his right hand picked single notes and plucked chords. He played the riff again, this time descending quickly, bending a string and shaking the guitar’s battered neck. He started to play the melody again, then bounced a chord off it—da da!—and started to play some other notes, but they slammed into each other—blonk!—and he went back to the main theme. He played the verse again, rushing it slightly and throwing in a succession of loud, falling notes that changed the tune. At the end he paused and finished with a cascade of sounds, like a leaf falling from a tree.
That particular version of “Nuages” didn’t make it onto Let’s Face the Music and Dance (at least not based on a quick listen to the advance copy of the album I received this week), but the take that did make the cut is similarly lovely and autumnal.
One question, though: Why release a new Willie album two weeks before his eightieth birthday rather than on the big day itself, which conveniently happens to fall on a Tuesday? Wouldn’t that be a publicist’s dream?
Update: Randy Haecker, senior director of media relatons at Legacy, has answered my question, via email: “Once Willie finished off this album (not so very long ago… we’re talking weeks ago), he requested that we put it out as soon as possible. The first possible date, taking into account deadlines for artwork, etc, was April 15th. We certainly discussed the idea of an actual birthday release but decided to go with Willie’s wishes.”