BY JOHN B. MOORE
“The record people nowadays keep spinning round and round. Songs about the back roads that they never have been down. They go and call it country, but that ain’t the way it sounds… It’s hard to be an Outlaw who ain’t wanted anymore,” drawls Willie Nelson in his trademark nasal delivery, on “Hard To Be An Outlaw,” the Billie Joe Shaver-penned fuck you to modern country music. And if we’re being honest here, Band of Brothers, Nelson’s latest record taken in its entirety, is pretty much a weathered, defiant middle finger in the air to what is currently being peddled as “Country Music” nowadays.
Nelson, Shaver, Waylon, Kris and Johnny (the Apostles of Outlaw Country) turned their backs on Nashville’s conveyer belt method of making watered-down, string-laden sappy records, and struck out on their own with an anti-establishment model in the ‘70s. Well, the record has spun around once again and contemporary country music is back to being style over substance (but this time it’s embroidered jeans and trucker hats instead of Nudie Suits and rhinestones) and every song is legally required (not sure if it’s a state law or one put in place by Nashville’s Music Row Mafia) to be about the beach and bikinis (the Jimmy Buffet-with-an-accent movement) or about God and Country. Which brings us back to Band of Brothers, a country record that simply sounds like nothing that is currently being played on country radio today. And that should be worn as a badge of honor.
The album, Nelson’s third in 16 months, is his first one of predominately new (original) material since 1996’s Spirit. Aside from the Shaver-authored “Hard To Be An Outlaw,” Nelson covers four other songs written by contemporaries, including the fantastic credo tune “The Songwriters,” (courtesy of Gordie Sampson and Bill Anderson). All of these ringers compliment the Nelson songs beautifully.
About a quarter of the tracks here are up-tempo (like the destined to be classic “Wives and Girlfriends” and “Crazy Like Me”), but the bulk of Band of Brothers finds Nelson in a less than raucous mood and that’s not a bad thing, when he trots out one slow burn, slyly-written sing-along after another. Like most prolific artists, Willie can be hit or miss with his offerings. This latest one lands the target dead on.
DOWNLOAD: “Guitar in the Corner,” “Wives and Girlfriends” and “The Songwriters”