When you think that you might have enough Willie Nelson albums in your collection he comes along with another essential addition to his catalogue. This Buddy Cannon produced set features his son Lukas on several tracks, three of which he also wrote. His voice has an instant family recognizability and makes him an ideal duet partner for his father. He is also joined by a selection of friends and fellow travelers in Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Ray Price, Billy Joe Shaver, Sheryl Crow, Jamey Johnson and Snoop Dogg. Good company and not there to help give some new upstart credibility. Willie is such a icon and, as such, is so immediately identifiable that he is never in danger of being upstaged. A veteran of many a duet he's always front and centre as is unique use of his trusted guitar Trigger. There are a number of classic songs like My Window Faces The South and Cold War With You as well as a distinctive takes on Eddie Vedder's Just Breathe and Coldplay's The Scientist (this track produced by Justin Stanley and Doyle Bramhall 11 and the only solo vocal from Willie). But the songs that will immediately raise a smile is Roll Me Up a new song written by Nelson, Cannon and others. "Roll me up and smoke me when I die" being it's appropriate theme. There are a number of players important to the overall success of the album and they include Mike Johnson on steel guitar, Lukas Nelson on electric guitar and long time contributor Mickey Raphael on his trademark harmonica. All of those involved deliver and it is a pleasure to listen to this album again and again, as you hear little nuances that might pass you by on first listen. It is also a celebration of some of country music's surviving heroes. That they aren't as lauded as their friend Johnny Cash was is a great pity as Haggard, Kristofferson, Price and Shaver as well as Willie himself are all vocalists and song interpreters who give so much life and dignity to these songs, bringing both old and new together in a cohesive way. As Willie sings " the world's getting crazy and seems to be getting worse every day", so you need this sort of album to help you deal with it. The album Heroes is full them. It's an album old fans and new ones should celebrate and hold close to their hearts.
The consensus seems to be that this is an important album in that it is more genuinely country sounding than pretty much everything that has been released on a major Music Row label for quite some time. The other thing is that being a double album of 25 tracks it would have made a better single album. That's subjective as it's likely that no two people would come up with exactly the same list of tracks to make their ideal single disc album. It sell, pretty much, for the same price as a single, so you need to give it some space to listen and find your own choices. Add to that it was produced by the band, know as The Kent Hardly Playboys, and they are the players involved which, for the most part, is not the way it's done, session players being the usual order of the day. Some detractors have pointed out better albums in the same vein, but these are usually independent artists, free of any restraints, and you have to look harder to find the, . This album should be in your local record shop via Humphead and should be easy to order if not. As to the album; firstly Johnson's vocal are strong, his baritone is allowed to stretch and move around these songs some of which extend beyond the usual three minute barrier. Add to that the band also get the chance to get in there and play the songs. The songs are variable some good ones and some not so good ones. His co-writers are often those of the current crop, who have been, seen in some quarters as neo-outlaws, which isn't really the case. They instead mine a seam of southern rock and Hank Williams Jr, rather than a truer rebel like Hank 111. There are a bunch of covers here to that, for the most part work, one being the Keith Whitley co-write Lonely At The Top which is one of those songs that laments the troubadour life but is balanced by the response of life may be as the title suggests but never forget that "it's a bitch at the bottom". Other songs from outside writers include Set 'Em Up Joe a Hank Cochran, Dean Dillon, Buddy Cannon and Vern Gosdin co-write and Mel Tillis' Mental Revenge. The two "sides" are divided into dark and light even though there not a whole lot of difference between the two in terms of sound the themes are lighter on the white disc. Not that this is a concept album in the way that Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger was, rather it concept are more loosely defined and adhered to. Overall I enjoyed the album and think that Johnson's heart is in the right place. It's status, to some degree, will be, in terms of the mainstream, seeing how well it sells and what that might infuence the majors in the way the perceive "country" as it appears that pop-country may not have the hold and sales it once had and that country albums overall are have a big sales decline. There are many reasons for that but the quality and distinctiveness of the music has to be a big factor