It’s a grey day throughout much of Texas, and it’s a Monday everywhere—in other words, it’s the sort of day that was made for a bluesy, low-key album by Willie Nelson. Fortunately, that’s precisely what the Texas troubadour’s latest is, and the entire thing is up and streaming right now on NPR’s First Listen site.
The album, Band Of Brothers, is something of a return to form for Willie. While his succession of albums in the new millenium have helped him reached new heights as a performer and an interpreter of material (both written by others and from earlier parts of his own career), Band Of Brothers is the first album he’s recorded since the mid/late-nineties one-two punch of Spirit and Teatro that’s made up primarily of new material written by Nelson. Eight of the fourteen tracks on Band Of Brothers are Nelson originals (co-written by Kenny Chesney producer Buddy Cannon), which means that fans of Willie-the-songwriter have a feast before them they haven’t been able to enjoy in well over a decade. (The songs that he didn’t write, meanwhile, are by folks like Billy Joe Shaver and Vince Gill.)
Willie’s band sounds as good as ever here, taking listeners through moody material like the contemplative “The Wall” and Shaver’s “The Git Go,” a duet with Jamey Johnson. The title track, meanwhile, is classic country self-mythologizing: “We’re a band of brothers and sisters and whatever / on a mission to break all the rules / and I know you love me ‘cuz I love you too / but you can’t tell me what to do,” Willie sings over slide guitars. At 81, Willie Nelson is still invested in proving his outlaw bonafides, and we’re lucky to be able to hear it.