Willie Nelson fans have waited 18 years for an album containing predominantly new material. For his latest release, Band of Brothers, he penned nine of the 14 tracks (with producer Buddy Cannon). Not since 1996's Latin-influenced Spirit has the songwriter let the public enjoy this many originals. Band of Brothers also features tunes by Whispering Bill Anderson, Billy Joe Shaver and Vince Gill.
The much-anticipated follow-up to To All The Girls... starts strong with "Bring It On," which shows off Nelson's fiery independence and outlaw side. His longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael adds a nifty solo. Nelson follows with the forlorn “Guitar in the Corner."
He gets gets personal on "The Wall," reflecting on his six- decade career and a shoulder injury that required him to seek treatment in Germany. “I took on more than I could handle," Nelson sings. "I bit off more than I could chew/ I went off like a Roman candle/ Burning everyone I knew/ I hit the wall."
The title track also has a personal feel: "We’re a band of brothers and sisters and whatever/ On a mission to break all the rules/ And I know you love me ‘cause I love you too/ But you can’t tell me what to do."
The Red Headed Stranger must have been channeling Shotgun Willie when he wrote "Wives and Girlfriends," a comical tune that's solid country gold. Along with "I Thought I Left You," these two would've fit perfectly on Nelson's 1974 album, Phases and Stages.
Both Shaver selections will also appear on his upcoming album, Long in the Tooth, due out Aug. 5. A swampy blues, "The Git Go" pairs Nelson with modern-day outlaw Jamey Johnson. The second Shaver song, "Hard to Be an Outlaw," takes an unfiltered look at the current state of mainstream country: "They go and call it country but that ain’t the way it sounds/ It’s enough to make a renegade wanna terrorize the town."
The final two cuts are my favorites on Band of Brothers. Anderson's "The Songwriters" is apropos for Nelson. "Our mamas don’t know what we’re doing/Or why we stay out all night long," he sings. "I told mine I was a drug dealer/She said, Thank God you ain’t writin’ songs."
Nelson closes the album with "I've Got a Lot of Traveling to Do" (play audio above), which is reminiscent of "One The Road Again." It's about not letting a woman hold you back from hitting the road. "I wanna fire one up/ I wanna burn it down," Nelson says fully in character. "Light one more and write a song or two/ I've got a lot of traveling to do."
For his 48th full-length album (the first being 1962’s …And Then I Wrote), Nelson shows no signs of slowing down slacking off. He's already working on No. 49, titled December Day, which is scheduled for a late fall release.
At 81, Willie Nelson still plays up to 150 live shows a year. Look for him this summer on tour with Allison Krauss + Union Station and Kacey Musgraves.