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Willie Nelson - A Beautiful Time (Album Review)

Wednesday, 11 May 2022 Written by Simon Ramsay

If any of us are fortunate enough to reach the grand old age of 89, we probably won’t be producing a late stage beauty of a record that, exuding heartfelt reflection and nostalgic recollection, imparts sage lessons as it embraces the inevitable journey into the next life.

Refusing to rely on his status and hang up those well-oiled creative spurs, Willie Nelson continues to release albums with metronomic regularity.  Treating fans to either one or two a year since the turn of the millennium, country music continues to be more raison d’ etre than mere vocation to the ‘red headed stranger’ from Texas.

Masterfully curated with long time producer Buddy Cannon, ‘A Beautiful Time’ is the veteran’s 72nd solo studio effort since his debut dropped an astonishing 60 years ago.

Blending wonderful self-penned material with thematically appropriate cover versions, and sterling originals written for him by some of today’s finest songsmiths, it’s a life-affirming record that encourages us to roll with the punchesc and pursue our passions without fearing father time.  

Drafted by Chris Stapleton and Rodney Crowell, I’ll Love You Till The Day I Die opens an album full of authentic, sentimental reminiscence as Nelson recalls a brief love at first sight encounter that lingered for a lifetime. His own Energy Follows Thought quietly espouses the law of attraction over spiritual atmospherics and a sterling rendition of the Beatles With A Little Help From My Friends reminds us there’s no song this icon can’t make his own. 

The record’s traditional, spacious and laid back country sound, born of twanging guitars, soulful harmonica, gracious rhythms and wistful lap steel, is gorgeously woven but hardly revelatory. What makes ‘A Beautiful Time’ special is a thematic focus that gains extra resonance because we know this beloved titan is approaching the end of an inspirational life that’s given him plenty of insight.  

Spinning hard earned truths in a conversational manner, Nelson juxtaposes feelings about much-missed youthful naivety against the positives of growing older. Live Every Day and Dusky Bottles both dispense golden nuggets of perspicacity, with the singer’s aged vocals adding gravitas to autobiographical-leaning numbers littered with nods to his past.

Penned with maximum empathy by Shawn Camp, the title track lovingly reflects on life as a troubadour and, as such, could be a sequel to Nelson’s signature number On The Road Again. The delightfully spry and wry I Don’t Go To Funerals, meanwhile, sees him looking forward to reuniting with former Highwaymen bandmate Johnny Cash, and their ‘sweetheart’ Patsy Cline, when he departs this mortal coil.

Following the recent passing of his sister and longtime pianist Bobbie, not to mention the events of the last few years, Willie Nelson must surely feel the hand of mortality on his shoulder. Although not written by him, Leave You With A Smile, which closes the album in intimate fashion, can’t help but sound like a ‘thank you and goodnight’ to his fans. If he wasn’t still so creatively active, we might be tempted to declare this record a masterful adios to a life and career without equal.

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