Review: Willie Nelson Revels in Classic Context

Willie Nelson/I Don’t Know A Thing About Love/Legacy Recordings
Four out of Five Stars

It’s been said constantly, but even so, it’s well worth repeating. Willie Nelson is a phenomenon. Even as he approaches his 90th birthday, the man once dubbed “The Red-Headed Stranger” is certainly no stranger as far as infusing his influence on modern music. In fact, his efforts have crisscrossed all preconceived barriers and boundaries, often resulting in multiple releases within a single year, constant touring, and an ongoing celebration and sponsorship of artists he’s influenced and inspired in a career that spans over six and a half decades.

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His latest offering finds him paying homage to another celebrated songwriter, Harlan Howard, whose own cache of songs helped shape the course of contemporary country music. Overseen by another iconic individual, producer Buddy Cannon, the somewhat dismissively titled, I Don’t Know A Thing About Love finds Willie returning to his roots through a series of forthright songs that combine balladry, honky-tonk, and seminal standards, all delivered with the soulful strains that have always been so essential to his singular style. While the material is part and parcel of a vintage pastiche, “Life Turned Her That Way,” “Streets of Baltimore” and the title track ring with sweet sentiment and heartfelt emotion. That said, there’s a celebratory side to the proceedings as well, as expressed by the song that banks on a certain familiarity factor, that being the plucky and playful “Tiger by the Tail,” a song that made the mainstream charts courtesy of its original recording by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos.

Naturally, there is no shortage of other delights as well. “Busted,” a heartfelt tale detailing a flurry of unfortunate circumstances, finds Willie in his Everyman guise, courtesy of an easy sway and stride. “She Called Me Baby” and “Too Many Rivers” convey the forlorn feelings that accompany the break-up of a once solid affair. Anyone wondering how the expression “tears in the beer” originated might consider this album a perfect primer as far as that subject is concerned.

Ultimately, Willie may echo Harlan Howard’s claim he doesn’t know a thing about love, but that’s obviously a misnomer. Both tender and tenacious, I Don’t Know A Thing About Love reveals all within the context of a classic country compendium.

Photo by Jim Bennett/WireImage

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