The quality writing, perceptive performances and moments of subtle beauty and humour...
Sue Keogh 2004
'I'm gonna love you 'til the wheels come off'. What a great line. But it would be nothing without the delivery. After more than five decades of recording, Shotgun Willie is still teaching the young country pups a thing or two about finding your own unique style and using it to impart a real depth of emotion to the listener.
He's released two albums this month, and if you're short of cash and hesitating over which one to buy, let us make it easy for you. Forget the overblown made-for-telly special Outlaws And Angels - Willie probably has - and get your hands on It Will Always Be. The quality writing, perceptive performances and moments of subtle beauty and humour make it one of the strongest country records released this year.
It's his third release for ever-credible label Lost Highway Records, and his first studio album since 2000's excellent The Great Divide, which spawned the Grammy and CMA Award-winning duet with Lee Ann Womack, "Mendocino County Line".
Produced by James Stroud (Toby Keith, Merle Haggard and Tim McGraw) the album is written largely by Nelson, with contributions from some of the best songwriters around; including Scotty Emerick, Chuck Cannon and Tom Waits/ Kathleen Brennan (whose sweet song "Picture In A Frame" is home to that 'wheels come off' line).
There's also the usual interesting array of duet partners. First up is Paula Nelson, joining her Dad on "Be That As It May" and unfortunately singing like she's trying to dislodge some fried chicken from her back teeth. Lucinda Williams proves herself to be much more suited to the style of the old troubadour. The version of "Overtime" featured on Outlaws And Angels was a pretty raucous affair but here it is beautifully languid, with Williams being soft and (almost) coquettish.
Affirmed Nelson fan Norah Jones -whose appearances on the other two recent live albums, Live And Kickin' and Stars And Guitars added a touch of class to otherwise unexciting recordings -brings her silken vocals to the "Crazy"-feeling lounge tune "Dreams Come True".
Even Toby Keith is acting grown-up, with his song "Tired" offering Nelson the chance to interpret another poignant tale of the hard working man who doesn't notice his relationship crumbling around him. Keith saves his vocal contribution for something far more upbeat and fun; a meaty cover of the Allman Brothers' "Midnight Rider", the lead-off single which they'll hope will replicate the success of their last duet, the plain daft "Beer For My Horses".