Is there anything more comforting than the voice of Willie Nelson? Rich, gentle and a constant in the lives of the majority the planet, Nelson’s voice — hell, Willie himself — is a friend. There’s a reason music fans of all ages have scooped up books like Tao of Willie: a Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart and Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die. In this increasingly upside-down world, the Red Headed Stranger is our guide.
But Willie’s never billed himself as the man with all the answers, just as a man who knows how to roll with life’s punches and write a damn good song about it. It’s that man –the rambler, the rebel, the poet– that leads us through his latest work, God’s Problem Child. The album, which deals with aging, love and the loss of old friends, proves that at the age of 84, the problem child is still as wise, soulful and clear-spoken as ever.
Though it seems Willie will never slow down, the struggles of aging appear throughout God’s Problem Child. On “Old Timer,” Nelson sings of an old man looking back on his wilder days. The idea of a young spirit inhabiting an old body is powerful coming from a man as timeless as Willie.
Similarly, the steel guitar-driven track “It Gets Easier” deals with the passage of time and its impact on relationships and our own psyche. “It gets easier to watch the world fly by and tell it I’ll catch up, but not today,” Nelson sings.
But it’s not all sorrowful ruminations on life. Willie lets his wry humor fly on “Still Not Dead,” a rebuttal to those incessant internet death hoaxes. (Seriously, y’all stop that.) Willie is still very alive and well. And he shouldn’t have to remind anyone. He’s still touring practically non-stop and launching brand new music festivals. On the tongue-in-cheek track, Willie touts his harrowing tour schedule, which is enough to exhaust most of the youngsters in the game. “Don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play,” Nelson sings. “I woke up still not dead again today.”
Nelson explores his rambunctious spirit on the swampy-cool “God’s Problem Child,” featuring the late Leon Russell. The song’s co-writers, Tony Joe White and Jamey Johnson, trade vocals on the track.
The shuffling “Delete and Fast Forward” finds Willie assessing the 2016 presidential election as only he can. “We had a chance to be brilliant and we blew it again,” he sings. “So delete and fast forward, my friend.”
“Your Memory Has a Mind of it’s Own,” a classic country waltz co-written with the album’s producer Buddy Cannon, is a stand out moment on an already rich record.
The album closes out with the moving “He Won’t Ever Be Gone,” a tribute to the late Merle Haggard. The song, penned by Gary Nicholson, features backing vocals from Merle’s son, Ben Haggard.
It’s a testament to his entertainment prowess that Willie Nelson is still making consistently brilliant albums. And he’s not just looking back. God’s Problem Child is a peek into the next chapter in the book of Willie, a promise that he’s not even close to being done and another helpful guide on how to live. It’s been a wild ride and it sure as hell ain’t over yet. Thank God.