Thoughts & Notes on Willie Nelson, the Osborne Brothers & Bob Wills’ records

As promised, my thoughts on the haul of records I discussed in my previous post. Time to spin some records and give you my thoughts on them…

Willie Nelson’s Stardust

  • I liken this album to a warm blanket, as you can put it on anytime and it’s instantly comforting
  • Willie just glides effortlessly over the melodies
  • While Willie is rightfully known for being one of the all time great songwriters, this album shows he’s an equally great interpreter
  • In addition, this album shows his excellence when it comes to adapting to various styles of music
  • The opening title track tells you right up front what to expect with this album, soft and gentle music unlike any of his outlaw stuff that made him famous in the previous few years
  • The tender weariness of Willie’s vocals combined with the understated soulful production from Booker T. Jones on “Georgia On My Mind” makes one feel full when listening to it
  • The harmonica solo in the bridge is a great touch, as some country creeps through in this jazzy song
  • Then again I guess harmonica isn’t something exclusive to country music. But Mickey Raphael on harmonica on a Willie song is
  • Who doesn’t know “All of Me”? And even if you don’t, I feel like it’s one of those songs you can instantly sing along with. Made famous by Willie’s friend and music legend Frank Sinatra, this song just fits Willie like a glove.
  • It fits him so well for the same reason it fit Sinatra so well: they effortlessly convey emotion behind the lyrics. There’s a passion behind the delivery that makes you care. Again it comes back to the interpreting ability of Willie. Sure you could get somebody who’s a really polished, technically sound vocalist sing this. But it wouldn’t have near the charm and appeal that a vocalist like Willie brings to it.
  • The same can be said of Willie’s interpretation of “Unchained Melody,” a song that has been done countless times across every genre and a song firmly entrenched in American culture. I mean is it a surprise a song about pining for love fits Willie well? He brings that achiness needed to make the song connect with the listener
  • I love the lingering piano that greets you in “September Song” and then drifts in the background throughout. It makes you feel like you’re taking a walk through the woods on a crisp fall afternoon in…well September.
  • Trigger of course sounds great as always in the bridge with a well placed solo to complement the carefree melody of the song
  • Just like “All of Me,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street” is one of those instantly likable songs to me. There’s a reason it became a jazz standard and covered by every big name of that genre. And Willie’s cover is certainly worthy of being right next to the best of the jazz interpretations of the song.
  • You would think I would have more to say on an album I hold to such high esteem, but the funny thing I’ve learned listening to hundreds of albums is sometimes you don’t have a lot of words to say about an album you enjoy other than a succinct, “I just like it.” Stardust is one of those albums that is better left for you to listen to and hear for yourself rather than someone else describing it to you. If you think would enjoy a country/jazz/pop fusion or if you love Willie Nelson, you’ll love this album too

Willie Nelson’s Always On My Mind

  • I had no clue that “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” was originally recorded by Aretha Franklin
  • Willie obviously has a much different take, but very much makes it his own by making more of a country pop waltz
  • By the way you can tell right away that this is an 80s album, with what I call the “dramatic” production that permeates every genre of music in this time
  • Another thing I learned: Originally producers Chips Moman and Bobby Emmons suggested to both Nelson and Merle Haggard to record the song for their collaboration album Pancho & Lefty. But Merle turned it down! Willie says he never heard it right according to his autobiography, but he was impressed by it the moment he heard it. It goes to show even legends can sometimes miss on “getting” music
  • To me this song is absolutely gorgeous and Willie’s version is by far my favorite of all the versions of it recorded. It’s one of the first songs I think of when I think of Willie Nelson. From the soft and smooth piano strokes that open to the tenderness of Nelson’s delivery, it’s one of those songs that gives you goose bumps. It’s a love song with true emotion that resonates with anyone who listens closely
  • I completely forgot there was a hidden Waylon feature on “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” so I popped up from my seat when listening to this vinyl record for the first time
  • The lyrics to this song are so different, especially for Willie and Waylon. But they absolutely nail what was originally a baroque pop song. They’re rightfully known as the kings of outlaw country, but their talent made them capable of taking on any genre they set their minds to. That’s just brilliant artists for you
  • Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is one of those American classics you can’t avoid, especially since Simon feels like your favorite songwriter’s songwriter
  • With Willie’s version, I like the subdued production choice here by Chips Moman and letting Willie’s voice be front and center. When he hits those upper notes it stands out even more
  • “Old Fords and a Natural Stone” is one of those simple songs that Nelson knocks out in his sleep. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but enjoyable nonetheless. I also enjoy the saxophones that pop up in the background throughout. Again I’m a sucker for 80s production and over Willie singing it’s just even better
  • So the song I mentioned before that’s my favorite on the album (and that’s saying something with multiple great songs on it)
  • “Permanently Lonely” is the definition of confident bitterness. Oh I’ll be alright from his breakup, but you won’t because you’re always going to be lonely. And in light of a breakup, I think it’s perfectly natural to feel this way
  • But of course it’s not just bitterness being displayed here, but it’s also a coping mechanism. It’s easier to get over a breakup when you tell yourself that your ex is going to be lonely forever
  • Chris Stapleton did a good job with his cover of Gary P. Nunn and Donna Farar’s “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning.” But Willie’s version is the definitive version for me
  • Willie’s version is much better than Stapleton’s because of the vocal deliveries of each. It goes back to what I said in my thoughts on Stardust above: Willie brings a weary charm that fits a heartbreaking song like this, whereas Stapleton’s voice, while powerful and amazing, is too much for a song like this (Stapleton does heartbreak best on a song like “Either Way”)
  • Trigger’s solo to play out this song is mesmerizing and really puts an exclamation point on this great song
  • It just makes sense to end an album with a song called “The Party’s Over”
  • That phrase also just works in a song about a relationship ending. Hell I even think I ended a relationship saying the exact phrase. But again another great piece of writing from Willie
  • Funny how this album basically happened because Willie wanted to record the title track. If Merle had said yes, maybe this album doesn’t happen. All I know is I’m glad it did, as it’s quite enjoyable and ranks as one of my favorites in Willie’s discography

Willie Nelson’s City of New Orleans

  • Remember how I said above that there are some albums that can be just summed up as “I just like it”? Well that’s pretty much the case here
  • The title track is a fun song about a train ride to New Orleans that Willie covers with a powerful delivery backed by some catchy production
  • Willie’s cover of “She’s Out of My Life” rivals the most popular version of it by Michael Jackson in my opinion. And I love the Jackson version
  • What makes the Jackson version really stand out of course is it’s so different than the rest of the songs on Off the Wall, an album full of upbeat disco songs. So the song itself is an emotional gut punch and it punches even harder next to these type of songs
  • By the way, Off the Wall is on my all time favorite albums list, so I couldn’t recommend it more. I actually think it’s better than Thriller
  • I find it hard to believe Bette Midler’s version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” is the most popular version of this song. Because in the words of a former doctor of mine, “Bette Midler is awful.”
  • So give me the Willie version this song! It’s a beautiful song that suits his voice perfectly. Have you gotten sick of me saying this yet in this post? That’s what happens when you decide to write about three Willie albums that are largely covers.
  • City of New Orleans is a solid album and follow-up to the same idea Willie followed on Always on My Mind. Unfortunately this album doesn’t quite hit the highs of that album, but this is still a good showing

Osborne Brothers’ Cuttin’ Grass Osborne Brothers Style

  • As soon as I heard the sweet sounds of Bob Osborne’s mandolin playing in “Sweet Thing,” I had a feeling I would really enjoy this album
  • What a great opening song! And the female vocalist is fantastic! Unfortunately it does not list on the back of the album or anywhere on it who this woman is. And my Google searching did not turn up anything definitive either. It could possibly be Felice Bryant? I’m not sure, so if anyone reading this could help me here I would greatly appreciate your help in identifying the vocalist
  • Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuby!
  • That’s one way to open a song! Also I immediately recognized “Ruby, Are You Mad”! I know I’ve heard it, granted a really, really long time, likely from my dad or grandpa when showing me bluegrass at a very young age. My memory is great, but it’s not strong enough to remember exactly when
  • While the picking on this song is quite entertaining, the pipes on the female vocalist impress me even more. I’m out of breath just listening!
  • The harmonizing at the end is awesome, a really nice bow on a great song
  • “May You Never Be Alone” is so mournful and sad, but also quite beautiful. The picking in the bridge lights up your soul, both the banjo picking from Sonny and mandolin picking from Bob. These brothers damn sure know how to make a compelling melody!
  • It’s a Hank song, you know actual Hank, not his drunk son. So of course the song is well written.
  • I didn’t even watch the show and I immediately recognized “Ballad of Jed Clampett.” Beverly Hillbillies is of course right up there with the Dukes of Hazzard, Hee Haw and The Andy Griffith Show as the most influential and influential shows in country and bluegrass history
  • “Sour Wood Mountain” is where the brothers really show off their picking; it’s no surprise as they wrote this one themselves. The banjo really shines on this one
  • Hank Locklin’s “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On” I thought I had never heard, yet I knew I was enjoying this too much and knew the lyrics too quickly for this to be true. Sure enough I realized I heard this first on Dwight Yoakam’s Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room. And it’s been covered by several in country music.
  • I’m not surprised because man, this is an enjoyable heartbreak song.
  • Once again the harmonizing is right on point and really gives the song some heft
  • It’s definitely amusing to hear about how bluegrass is the in and hip thing on Earnest Tubb’s “Bluegrass Music’s Really Gone to Town.” Because other than a brief period in the early 2000s, this has never been the case in my lifetime. Then again this album was released in 1963
  • “Night Train to Memphis” is really catchy and the gospel influences on this are really enjoyable. Of course I think every song on this album is catchy and enjoyable
  • Well “New Partner Waltz” just lays it right out there: a couple both notice the other looking over each others’ shoulders during the waltz and concluding they’ll each have a new partner when the next song begins. Yet he seems to think they’ll be alone after this dance? Maybe I’m reading too much into what’s just a simple heartbreak song
  • “White Lightning” is a song that holds such importance in the history of country and bluegrass: it pays homage to the influence of moonshining, it was the first hit for George Jones and it’s a go-to example of how the genres utilized humor in it’s earlier days to win audiences over
  • I mean how can you not chuckle and smile with the funny lyrics and reactions of the characters throughout to taking a sip of white lightning
  • I will say I’ve never had a chance to take a sip of white lightning myself, but based on what I’ve heard it sounds like it would knock me on my ass
  • While I’ve heard my share of bluegrass albums that sound repetitive and really hearing these types of bluegrass album is what kept me away from further exploring the genre, this album is certainly not repetitive. In fact, I’m dying to hear more of it
  • I shit you not the first time I played this record I immediately had to play it a few more times because I was thrilled by what I was hearing
  • The melodies on this are fantastic and captivating, the vocals are very impressive and Cuttin’ Grass Osborne Brothers Style is definitely my type of bluegrass
  • Needless to say I’ll continue to search for more of this type of bluegrass

Bob Wills’ Fiddle

  • Well it’s an all instrumental, fiddle-laden album. While the music nerd in me enjoys this, it honestly doesn’t make for interesting writing in my opinion, unless you yourself are an expert fiddle player who can break down all the details they could pick up listening to Bob Wills. And even then I would probably skim their writings. 
  • All in all though I’ll leave you with this: If you thought Tyler Childers’ Long Violent History was pretty neat like I did, then you need to check out Bob Wills.
  • While Childers’ project was great from an artistic standpoint, from a technical standpoint it wasn’t anywhere near what you get with Wills. There’s a reason he’s one of the all time great fiddle players and what I love about this album is how it shows his progression. The album begins with some of his earliest recordings in the 1930s, which are simpler in nature songs and the album progresses up until the end in the mid 40s, where you can hear the complexities and learnings he’s accumulated over the years to good use. The back of the album makes for fantastic reading as you listen because it explains all of this and how Wills was shaped by various influences. Particularly fascinating to me is his love of many genres, including blues, Spanish music, dance music and most interestingly, jazz! I would have never thought this, but then you listen and you can’t unhear it.
  • He actually worked with several jazz fiddlers, which I didn’t know was a thing. It’s not really what I think of with jazz (and they usually call it a violin I thought). It’s really a good reminder of how much of a melting pot music is and how integral each genre truly is, as one may not exist without the other. 
  • Wow! I actually did have something to write! I guess disregard the beginning of this section. And man what a fun haul of music!