A Foreigner Listens to a Willie Nelson Album for the First Time
Overseas, we don't get so many Texas legends shipped out. Therefore, although something in the back of my mind was aware of the existence of Willie Nelson, I couldn't have named you a song, what he looks like, or even explicitly associated him with Texas. Before you petition for my immediate removal from this section, I do honestly know at least some stuff about other music. I just wasn't brought up on country, if that is even the right thing to call this. Since emigrating over here, I have undoubtedly heard a large amount of Willie Nelson without being strictly aware of it.
-Willie Nelson's Eight Best Movie Roles
-Willie Nelson Turns 80: A Tribute and Playlist for a Texas Treasure
-The IRS Tapes: How Willie Nelson Taught us To Care About Stuff That Matters, Not Money
-How Willie Nelson Won the Lone Star State: Illustrated Map
Thus, upon listening to Red Headed Stranger, I felt like I vaguely recognized at least some of the songs, as if they had seeped into me simply from my presence in Texas these last couple of years. Nevertheless, deciding in my adorable naivety that an album by a Texas legend would best be listened to outdoors as y'all are a kind of outdoorsy state, I went for a walk and listened to Willie.
This was immediately proven a mistake. For the first few tracks, which were so good I wished they were longer and given more time to breathe, I wanted to be inside, on a dark and warm Texas night, drinking copiously. The drinking wasn't to forget, you understand, more that it just felt appropriate for what this undereducated writer felt were songs of longing and regret, but sung by a warm, friendly man who would happily share whatever intoxicant it was he had to hand.
The main surprise for this idiot is that I expected Willie's voice to be deeper. The only country singer who really crossed overseas was Johnny Cash. He is the only model I have when I imagine what country music should sound like. That's not to say Willie's voice isn't rich, as it certainly is, but it has a far reedier tone to what I was expecting. I like that the album clearly includes several brief guitar missteps, and I never imagined that a country album would contain a version of "O'er The Waves," even I was vaguely familiar with its deployment in American music from The Band's studio-recorded accompaniments to The Last Waltz.
I enjoyed the subtle use of percussion, picking up as the album went on, and I particularly enjoyed and was surprised by the relatively light-hearted nature of a lot of the music, even if the subject matter of the lyrics was not itself light-hearted. My stand-out track was "Can I Sleep In Your Arms," which was truly wonderful, a song of longing sung by a man I could more easily empathize with than any country music I had heard before. I'm not sure what exactly constitutes the empathy I heard in Willie's voice. I think his music has a friendly quality, whereas a lot of songs of longing, lust, and disappointment in love make you more want to give someone a hug rather than laugh about the whole thing and share a beer with them.
His truly is an important voice in country music. I can see that now. I'll carry on through as much of the rest of the back catalog as I can, no doubt, but this time I'll make sure to do it inside with some alcohol at hand. What's the best alcohol to accompany a Willie Nelson song, guys?