Heroes: an album of stoner country heaven. Maybe that’s a jump start but check this: “The road ain’t getting shorter/and the weed is gettin’ stronger” (No Place to Fly). You know that this line has been heard a few times on the Willie Nelson tour bus. But the sentiments are real and he’s no mere recycler.
The lines aren’t cheap because the songs are easy, candid travelogues. Nelson is who he is, honest, on No Place to Fly, a duet written with his son Luke who sings “Every day I get stoned/And I try to write a song.” It’s not a boast; it’s just a fact.
Sometimes country isn’t always about Nashville and Nelson’s always been about the other side – more like the Oklahoma, Texas, California side: the place where longhairs and non-conformists thrive.
Heroes is lazy and rich and the songs have Nelson’s world-weary, resigned commentary through them. It doesn’t sound like too much work and that’s why it feels right. There are clichés: (Every Time He Drinks He Thinks of Her), but they work because they’re natural and Nelson isn’t a poseur.
If there was any pressure put on Willie and crew during these sessions, somebody got the boot. Come on up to the House is reflective of this; a flowing gospel tune with Sheryl Crow.
Nelson cops an El Paso ambiance on Heroes – a classic barroom guitar picker saga that’s a potential tearjerker that resolves smoothly.
If The Eagles had smoked more weed and had told David Geffen to piss off, they could have sounded like this (The Sound of Your Memory).
The album is full of funny, offhand phrases, and also cheesy, but great ones as well, “Come on back Jesus and pick up John Wayne on the way.”
Nelson’s unpredictable, slippery guitar phrasing backs up this wry take on religious country music with unintentional irreverence.
The big surprise on Heroes is the treatment given the cover songs. Just Breathe by Pearl Jam and Coldplay’s The Scientist are both stately readings but Nelson’s tenor on The Scientist is a natural fit.
He gives an already stellar song a shaky grace and vulnerability – a great offset to a warm and humorous album.
–– Dean Gordon Smith is a Vernon-based musician who writes regular CD reviews for The Morning Star.