Willie Nelson comes with family and friends in tow on Heroes, his first new album since, oh, last year's Remember Me, Vol. 1. With over 60 albums to his name, Nelson shows no signs of slowing down as he heads into his 80th year. So how does this latest record stack against his body of work?
Willie's Gang of Outlaws
By far the most intriguing guest singer on Heroes is Snoop Dogg. As bizarre as it might seem, the Long Beach MC doesn't seem out of place singing "Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die." Kris Kristofferson and Jamey Johnson are also featured on this ode to cannibus and cremation. Sure, the tune feels a little throwaway, but it shows you "Shotgun Willie" has lost none of his irreverence.
"A Horse Called Music," the title track from Nelson's 1989 album, is given a sparkling new rendition courtesy of guest vocals by Merle Haggard. More familiar material also comes our way courtesy of Fred Rose's "Home In San Antone," "Cold War With You" (featuring Ray Price), and "My Window Faces The South."
Covering Coldplay, Pearl Jam, and Tom Waits
Less conventional are the album's series of covers from non-country artists. The most notable is Willie's take on Coldplay's smash hit "The Scientist." The song closes out the album, and is perfectly satisfactory. But it still feels a little odd. Nelson doesn't quite makes the song his own, and tries with little success to mold his voice to the cadences of Chris Martin's overplayed original.
Even less successful is Nelson's rendition of Pearl Jam's "Just Breathe." I can understand what attracted Nelson to the song, which considers love and mortality. But absent Eddie Vedder's growl, the lyrics end up sounding as trite as they read on the page. Better is "Come On Up to the House," originally recorded by Tom Waits. It's a celebration of family that crosses over into the religious.
Willie Nelson and Sons
Clearly, Heroes is a family affair for Nelson. His son Lukas wrote three songs -- "Every Time He Drinks He Thinks of Her," "No Place To Fly," and "The Sound of Your Memory" -- and sings on a good many more. (Is this a new trend? George Strait co-wrote much of 2011's Here for a Good Time with his son Bubba.)
Still, some listeners will take issue with Lukas's vocal delivery. His high-and-wiry voice and off-beat phrasing closely mirrors that of his father. Many will find it distracting, at least at first. After a few listens Lukas starts to fade into the tapestry. In case you were wondering, Nelson's other son, Micah, wasn't left out of this recording project. He sings and co-wrote the off-the-wall "Come On Back Jesus."
Best Songs on Heroes
- "A Horse Called Music" (purchase/download)
- "Hero" (purchase/download)
- "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die" (purchase/download)
Less commercially attuned than some of Nelson's other 21st century efforts, Heroes is a charmingly off-the-cuff effort. It's probably not a timeless listening experience, but then what is? The uncluttered arrangements complement Nelson's voice, making for a laid-back good time.
Track List for Heroes
- "A Horse Called Music" (with Merle Haggard and Lukas Nelson)
- "Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die" (with Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson)
- "That's All There Is To This Song"
- "No Place To Fly" (with Lukas Nelson)
- "Every Time He Drinks He Thinks Of Her" (with Lukas Nelson)
- "Come On Up To The House" (with Lukas Nelson and Sheryl Crow)
- "Hero" (with Billy Joe Shaver and Jamey Johnson)
- "My Window Faces the South" (with Lukas Nelson)
- "The Sound Of Your Memory" (with Lukas Nelson)
- "Cold War With You" (with Lukas Nelson and Ray Price)
- "Just Breathe" (with Lukas Nelson)
- "My Home In San Antone" (with Lukas Nelson)
- "Come On Back Jesus" (with Billy Joe Shaver, Lukas Nelson and Micah Nelson)
- "The Scientist"