Throughout A Beautiful Time (Legacy Recordings), Willie Nelson glances back at the long road to country music immortality while keeping one eye on an ongoing journey with no end in sight.
Nelson's 72nd solo studio album arrived on April 29: a release date that doubled as his 89th birthday. Its timing underscores such recurring lyrical themes as growing old, outliving loved ones and reflecting on a life well spent as a traveling bandleader and a songwriter of the first order.
The tracklist includes four new songs co-written by Nelson and his go-to producer, Buddy Cannon.
It follows two Nelson albums released in 2021: The Willie Nelson Family and Frank Sinatra tribute That's Life.
Read on for a track-by-track look at one of Nelson's richest musical offerings of the 21st century.
"I'll Love You Till the Day I Die"
If anyone doesn't need to seek outside cuts by top-shelf songwriters, it's Nelson. Still, his new album begins with this co-write by two of the best to ever follow his creative lead: Rodney Crowell and Chris Stapleton.
"My Heart Was a Dancer"
Nelson and Cannon co-wrote several songs that harness the same magic as Nelson and his Family Band's rootsy country gems from the 1970s, starting with this tale of a past infatuation that would've suited the Highwaymen's live set.
"Energy Follows Thought"
The mood switches from toe-tapping to spine-chilling with this Nelson and Cannon co-write. Its lyrical themes plus Nelson's weathered delivery throws a metaphysical detour, a la Sturgill Simpson, into a trip down memory lane.
Jack Wesley Routh, a songwriter for Johnny Cash beginning in the 1970s, co-wrote this introspective number with Douglas Graham. It's one of several songs with lived-in lyrics that sound even more poignant just 365 days before Nelson turns 90.
"I Don't Go to Funerals"
Nelson looks forward to a heavenly reunion with musical collaborators he's outlived, such as Merle Haggard and older sister Bobbie Nelson, on this Cannon co-write. Despite a title that might've made you expect a total downer or a Tom T. Hall-style dose of dark humor, it's the most upbeat song on the album.
"A Beautiful Time"
Veteran songwriter Shawn Camp (Brooks & Dunn's "How Long Gone") penned this love letter to living out of tour buses and vans. When sung by Nelson, it reflects fondly on a multi-decade run that's far from over.
"We're Not Happy (Till You're Not Happy)"
Nelson sings about his well-documented love of high-stakes poker and other pastimes related to the term "high" on this peppy song Camp co-wrote with Charles R. Humphrey III, the former bassist of the Steep Canyon Rangers and a member of Songs From The Road Band.
Toby Keith collaborator Scotty Emerick wrote this moving statement about the plus side of aging with Jim "Moose" Brown ("It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere") and Don Sampson ("Waitin' On A Woman"). "There's something to be said about wrinkles/ every song worth singing's got those lines," go lyrics that match the hard-earned wisdom in Nelson's voice.
"Me and My Partner"
Though Nelson didn't write this one (that credit goes to Ken Lambert), it's hard to imagine a more fitting tribute to drummer Paul English and other Nelson confidants who've died in recent years.
"Tower of Song"
Upon learning the meaning of "Tower of Song," there's no question that Nelson lives the lyrics that Leonard Cohen wrote.
"Tower of Song is that place where the writer is stuck," Cohen told British music magazine Q in 1991 (as quoted by Songfacts). "For better or worse, you're in it. I've come this far down the line. I'm not going to turn around and become a forest ranger or a neurosurgeon. I'm a songwriter."
"Live Every Day"
"Live every day like it was your last one/ and one day, you're going to be right" begins this Nelson and Cannon-co-write that celebrates experiencing life at its fullest and letting go of grudges. It's easily the album's most charming song.
"Don't Touch Me There"
Nelson warns others to walk softly on that heart of his, Bill Monroe style, with this Cannon co-write. In the context of A Beautiful Time, it's a homage to the stories about lonely fools that Nelson started writing in the 1950s.
"With a Little Help From My Friends"
The Beatles championed friendship and referenced getting high-- two topics that always suit Nelson-- in this John Lennon and Paul McCartney classic. The opening of Nelson's rendition packs more of a Bob Dylan punch, thanks to the harmonica-playing talents of Mickey Raphael.
In the grander scheme of things, it belongs on the same Beatles country covers playlist as Lorrie Morgan's "Eight Days a Week" and Emmylou Harris' "Here, There and Everywhere."
"Leave You With a Smile"
Nelson ends the album on a tender note with this story-song about a missed connection from years gone by. Cannon penned it with Nashville session player Bobby Terry and seasoned songwriter Matt Rossi. The latter two co-wrote Garth Brooks' "Stronger Than Me."
READ MORE: 'For Love & Country': Three Takeaways From Amazon Music's Documentary About Black Country Artists
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