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Country - Released April 1, 1978 | Legacy - Columbia

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Country - Released May 1, 1975 | Columbia Nashville

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger perhaps is the strangest blockbuster country produced, a concept album about a preacher on the run after murdering his departed wife and her new lover, told entirely with brief song-poems and utterly minimal backing. It's defiantly anticommercial and it demands intense concentration -- all reasons why nobody thought it would be a hit, a story related in Chet Flippo's liner notes to the 2000 reissue. It was a phenomenal blockbuster, though, selling millions of copies, establishing Nelson as a superstar recording artist in its own right. For all its success, it still remains a prickly, difficult album, though, making the interspersed concept of Phases and Stages sound shiny in comparison. It's difficult because it's old-fashioned, sounding like a tale told around a cowboy campfire. Now, this all reads well on paper, and there's much to admire in Nelson's intimate gamble, but it's really elusive, as the themes get a little muddled and the tunes themselves are a bit bare. It's undoubtedly distinctive -- and it sounds more distinctive with each passing year -- but it's strictly an intellectual triumph and, after a pair of albums that were musically and intellectually sound, it's a bit of a letdown, no matter how successful it was. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Country - Released October 20, 1987 | Rhino Atlantic

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Transferring his allegiance to Atlantic (where he would record two remarkable albums that would get him kicked off the label), Willie Nelson offered his finest record to date for his debut -- possibly his finest album ever. Shotgun Willie encapsulates Willie's world view and music, finding him at a peak as a composer, interpreter, and performer. This is laid-back, deceptively complex music, equal parts country, rock attitude, jazz musicianship, and troubadour storytelling. Nelson blurs the lines between his own tunes and covers to the point that "Whiskey River," this record's best-known song, seems thoroughly original, yet it was written by Johnny Bush and Paul Stroud. This, along with two songs apiece by Leon Russell and Bob Wills, provides context for his originals, with Shotgun Willie becoming a musical autobiography, offering not only insights into his musicality (witness how he slows down "Stay All Night [Stay a Little Longer]" to a slow shuffle) but, seemingly, into himself (most notably on the title track and the wonderful, funny travelogue "Devil in a Sleepin' Bag"). Nelson wasn't just at a peak of performing here -- he also wrote some of his greatest songs, highlighted not just by the previously mentioned tunes but also by the lovely slow waltz "Slow Down Old World" and "Sad Songs and Waltzes." All of it adds up to possibly the finest record in a career filled with hits and highlights. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Country - Released September 1, 1976 | Columbia

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Country - Released August 30, 2005 | Rhino Atlantic

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
If Shotgun Willie played a bit like a concept album, Phases and Stages was a full-blown one, tracing the dissolution of a marriage and devoting one side to the wife's perspective, the second to the husband's. If anything, Willie overplays his hand a bit, insisting on grafting the "Phases and Stages" theme between crucial songs to the point of genuine irritation. But, pretend that never happened, erase it from your mind, and Phases and Stages is easily the equal of its remarkable predecessor, a wonderful set of music that resonates deeply, as deeply as the words. Make no mistake -- the deceptively relaxed arrangements, including the occasional strings, not only highlight Nelson's clever eclecticism, but they also heighten the emotional impact of the album. And this is a hell of an emotional record, where even each side's celebratory honky tonk numbers (the medley "Sister's Coming Home/Down at the Corner Beer Joint" and "Pick Up the Tempo," respectively) are muted by sadness. Then, there are the centerpieces: "Walkin'," where the woman decides it's time to move on; "Pretend I Never Happened," perhaps the coldest ending to a relationship ever written; "Bloody Mary Morning," a bleary-eyed morning-after tale that became a standard; "It's Not Supposed to Be That Way," a nearly unbearably melancholy account of a love gone wrong; and "Heaven and Hell," a waltz summary of the relationship. Any two of these would have formed a strong core for an album, but placed together in a narrative context, their impact is even more considerable. As a result, this is not just one of Willie Nelson's best records, but one of the great concept albums overall. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Country - Released February 26, 2021 | Legacy Recordings

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It's fascinating that both Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, late in their careers, have been motivated to record albums of songs associated with Frank Sinatra. While their voices have faded (and could never rival Sinatra's mastery even in their best days), both of these towering figures, drawn first by the riches of the Great American Songbook, have also lived lives filled with the same highs and lows that powered Sinatra's original versions. Given the similarities between Sinatra's time as a saloon singer and Nelson's honky tonk years, Willie and his ever-craggier voice are uniquely qualified for another stroll down Tin Pan Alley. His 1978 standards set Stardust was a revelation, flabbergasting country music fans and making Nelson's canny ambitions a star in the larger music world. In 2016 he tapped into the Gershwins for Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin followed My Way, his first collection of Sinatra-centric standards, two years later. Now at the tender age of 87, when the sentiments behind Sinatra's showstopper "My Way" apply to Nelson more than ever, he gives another bravura vocal performance—albeit with a few shaky moments. A classy, smart, tremendously appealing production from start to finish, That's Life surrounds Nelson's vocal takes with snappy, brass-heavy arrangements by the multi-talented, Nashville-based keyboardist Matt Rollings who clearly drew inspiration from Sinatra collaborators like Nelson Riddle and Billy May. "Luck Be a Lady," the only track where Nelson's voice sounds overmatched, gets a welcome Latin zest; a pair of hits—"I've Got You Under My Skin," and "You Make Me Feel So Young"—come off smoothly; a duet with Diana Krall of "I Won't Dance" is a nice change of pace. And on a relaxed reading of the title track which Nelson sings like he wrote it, Paul Franklin's steel guitar adds a welcome touch of country music flavor. Of the two weepers here—both of which were among Sinatra's greatest performances—"In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," works best with Mickey Raphael, longtime member of Nelson's crew, adding a distinct harmonica solo. Tracked at Capitol Studios in Hollywood where Sinatra made many of his greatest recordings, and mixed by the great Al Schmitt, the production of That's Life is focused on Nelson's voice being front and center in an expansive overall sound that is uncluttered despite a plethora of instruments. A triumph! © Robert Baird/Qobuz
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Country - Released July 3, 2020 | Legacy Recordings

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For his 70th album, the unshakeable Willie Nelson (now 87 years of age) shows us his softer side. He may be the King of the outlaws, sitting comfortably atop his marijuana mountain, but the Texan has never hidden the super-sensitive and borderline romantic side of his personality. First Rose of Spring was produced by his old partner Buddy Cannon with whom he co-wrote two of its original songs. It also includes compositions by Chris Stapleton, Toby Keith and Pete Graves, as well as one by another 5-star outlaw, Billy Joe Shaver, with whom he covers We Are the Cow-Boys. This exquisite album primarily made up of love songs is drawn to a close with Yesterday When I Was Young (a cover of Charles Aznavour’s famous Hier Encore), which gives a sense of finality to the album as a whole, but not in a weak, languishing way. The production is understated, never flashy and accentuates the violins – when they’re there – with skill. There are also some beautiful acoustic guitar moments (played on a Martin N-20 Trigger) and vocals that are more fluid than usual. First Rose of Spring truly stands out from the many (perhaps too many) recent releases of Willie Nelson, who seems to be writing a never-ending will but doing so with as much class as ever. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Country - Released September 14, 2018 | Legacy Recordings

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As a musician, an actor, a businessman and a Texan – if not American – icon, Willie Nelson once again proves with this 68th studio album that he isn’t done yet. Following his Last Man Standing, My Way is a beautiful tribute to Frank Sinatra. Co-produced by Buddy Cannon and Matt Rollings, the album mostly covers Ol' Blue Eyes’ career in the sixties. The tender and tremulous voice of eighty-something Willie, graciously coated in orchestra arrangements, is wonderfully enchanting on Fly Me to the Moon, Summer Wind and Cole Porter’s Night and Day. My Way not only pushes the Red Head Stranger away from his beloved country music, but it is also a flashback on memories. Willie Nelson highlights how his encounter with Sinatra played a part in his interpretations. Sharing the swing and purity of phrasing in 2005 for their duo on My Way, or facetiously joking on an announcement about NASA researches, the two giants have always maintained a strong bond, despite their differences. Which goes to show braids and bow ties can go well together! © Clara Bismuth/Qobuz
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Country - Released June 21, 2019 | Legacy Recordings

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At the tender age of 86, Willie Nelson is still living life pedal to the metal, releasing new albums practically every year. On Ride Me Back Home, a most melancholy 69th album according to experts, the pope of hippie-country has come out with eleven new songs, mostly originals, co-written with his old accomplice Buddy Cannon, blending together his usual sense of humour with nostalgic snapshots – and sometimes, realistic snapshots as well when it comes to his age and the flow of time (Come On Time). At the middle point of the album, Willie slipped in a few covers - My Favorite Picture of You, by Guy Clark, the absolute smash it Just The Way You Are by Bily Joel, and It’s Hard to Be Humble by Mac Davis – revisited in good company, with his sons Lukas and Micah Nelson. An enthralling, dusky country record. © Max Dembo/Qobuz
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Country - Released January 1, 1998 | Island Records (The Island Def Jam Music Group / Universal Music)

For whatever reason, Willie Nelson's Teatro -- like Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball -- seems to exist in a vacuum, completely set apart from his other recordings. It's untrue in either case, but especially in Nelson's. A scant year or so before Teatro was released -- and its recording sessions filmed in an old movie theater in Oxnard, California -- Nelson issued his most brilliant album of the 1990s, Spirit. Island's publicists had no idea what to do with Spirit's subtle, unsentimental, moody, and sparsely arranged and performed songs, but the roots of Teatro lie firmly planted there on its opening instrumental, "Matador." As for Teatro itself, Harris is present on 11 of the 14 tracks. In addition, Daniel Lanois, the same mercurial talent who spearheaded Wrecking Ball, produced this set. The mood is set in an arid space where a forlorn mariachi band meets the Harmonica Man (courtesy of Mickey Raphael) on Ennio Morricone's score for Once Upon a Time in the West. Lyrically, Nelson is as ambitious as he was on Spirit, and rhythmically he's more so, but that doesn't necessarily serve him as well. Teatro is a fine record with its sadness and bitterness in "I Never Cared for You" and the Spanish two-step of "Darkness on the Face of the Earth." But Lanois is one busy guitar picker here, and it stands at odds with Nelson's more spare yet lyrical style. But it's a good tension. It works better on "My Own Peculiar Way," with the percussion floating and evening out the guitars. The touch of Afro-Cuban rhythm in "These Lonely Nights" is sharp in contrast to Nelson's relatively staid and conventional country melody. Here is where Lanois works his magic; he staggers an organ, an electric piano, an accordion, his own electric guitar, a trap kit, and hand percussion all around the beat without anyone playing dead on it. Nelson's voice is the only constant, and it draws the listener right to it. Nelson's cover of Lanois' "The Maker," with Lanois layering thick slaps of sweet, melodic distorted guitar over its intro, is amazing. Harris and Nelson work so well together -- throughout the album but on this track especially -- it's almost a shock they aren't always together. Lyrically, Nelson strides out ahead of all his late-'80s and early-'90s material, continuing the great strides he made with Spirit. Clearly, the slump is over here, and the poetry he spins is accessible, profound, and moving. Teatro is a special album, but it's part two of a story that began with Spirit, and both recordings should be heard in tandem with one another for the full effect. Striking, beautiful, and affecting, Teatro is a sonic film that displays its moving images in the minds and hearts of its listeners. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Country - Released November 6, 1979 | Columbia - Legacy

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Artists almost always release Christmas albums when they have a comfortable level of sales, and when Willie Nelson was at a popular peak during the late '70s, he chose to exploit his popularity by releasing Pretty Paper. Fortunately, the album was hardly a toss-off -- it was one of the finest country holiday records ever released. It's not just because the title track became a classic, or that his choice of material is terrific (all familiar tunes, but all great) -- it's because Nelson is a great interpreter, capable of making standards like "White Christmas" and "Silent Night" fresh and unpredictable. Few other artists are willing to put their personal stamp on these standards, and that alone is enough to make Pretty Paper a holiday record to cherish. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Country - Released October 16, 2015 | Columbia Nashville Legacy

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2008 | Blue Note Records

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History has proven that Willie Nelson will duet with pretty much anybody who comes along, and while this open-hearted open mind sometimes backfires, more often than not it results in some of his most sublime recordings. Two Men with the Blues, his album with jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis recorded over a two-night stand at Jazz at Lincoln Center on January 12 and 13, 2007, belongs in the latter category, standing as truly one of the most special records in either Nelson's or Marsalis' catalog. If the pair initially seem like an odd match, it's only because Wynton long carried the reputation of a purist, somebody who was adamant against expanding the definition of jazz, which cast him as the opposite of Willie, who never found a border he couldn't blur. Marsalis mellowed over the years, but it's also true that he and Nelson share a common background in jazz and the Great American Songbook, so this pairing plays naturally, providing equal measures of comfort and surprise. The engine for this music is Marsalis' band -- pianist Dan Nimmer, drummer Ali Jackson, bassist Carlos Henríquez, and saxophonist Walter Blanding -- with Nelson bringing his harmonica player Mickey Raphael along, which is enough to give this a flavor that's quite distinct from a typical Marsalis session without being foreign. Similarly, this isn't quite alien territory for Nelson either, as the repertoire relies heavily on blues standards, including a pair of tunes he cut on his jazzy breakthrough, Stardust (the title track and "Georgia on My Mind"), plus he's always veered close to jazz in his vocal and guitar phrasings. All this means that Two Men with the Blues has the warm comfort of a reunion and the freshness of a new collaboration, feelings that are palpable as soon as the album kicks off with a loose yet nimble reading of Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights, Big City." It's a subtle arrangement that doesn't draw attention to its unique touches, something that's also true of the flashier take on Hank Williams' "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It," which lurches and careens like a New Orleans marching band, coming to a highlight when Marsalis throws in a few lines from "Keep on Knockin'" for good measure. These sly spins on standards, along with a jump blues reworking of Merle Travis' "That's All" (first heard on a Willie Nelson record back in 1969), are balanced by numbers that are perhaps a bit more expected but are no less delightful, as "Night Life" is turned into a showcase for Wynton and the bandmembers sound as good skipping through "Caldonia" as they do laying back on "Basin Street Blues." It's music that flows so easily it's perhaps easy to take for granted, but Two Men with the Blues is truly something special, as it captures two masters enjoying their common ground while spurring each other to hear old sounds in new ways. It's a flat-out joy. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Country - Released October 14, 2013 | Legacy Recordings

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Country - Released April 28, 2017 | Legacy Recordings

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Mortality hangs over God's Problem Child, Willie Nelson's first solo album of original songs since 2014's Band of Brothers. Since that record, Willie lost several friends and he's also been the subject of several death hoaxes, a subject he tackles with a grin on "Still Not Dead," one of seven originals Nelson co-wrote with his longtime producer, Buddy Cannon. "Still Not Dead" provides a gateway to the rest of God's Problem Child, where Willie looks at the world with a blend of bemusement and melancholy suiting a road warrior who is still going strong in his eighties. Nelson is in better voice than he was in 2016, when he released two tribute LPs, and his band has a relaxed gait that harks back to his classic outlaw records of the '70s but feels mellowed with age. Not that the album moves slowly. "Little House on the Hill" gets things off with a skip and the record regularly returns to a laid-back groove that's often punctuated by blues, honky tonk ballads, and lazy laments. Whenever Nelson looks at his twilight years, it's either with clear eyes or bemusement: he salutes his friends who have crossed over on the lovely "Old Timer" and admits that "It Gets Easier" when you get older because you can let your feelings fade, but he gets a kick that he's still around to experience it all. His sense of humor remains sharp -- "Delete and Fast Forward" is one of the best expressions of exasperation at the state of the world in the late 2010s -- and his sentiment isn't sticky; he salutes the late Leon Russell by leaving in his old friend's guest vocal on the title track and pays tribute to Merle Haggard with "He Won't Ever Be Gone." All these songs hang together -- they're songs about love, loss, memory, and mistakes -- but God's Problem Child isn't a song cycle, nor is it a major statement. It's simply an uncommonly strong latter-day record from Willie Nelson: there isn't a hint of fussiness and the songs and the performances are so understated, they only seem richer with repeated spins. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Country - Released February 1, 1982 | Columbia Nashville

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Whether intentionally or not, the first album after a greatest-hits collection always raises the curtain on a new era, and in Willie Nelson's case, the difference between the era recapped on 1981's Greatest Hits (& Some That Will Be) and the one started with 1982's Always on My Mind is startling. Throughout the late '70s, Nelson's freewheeling, organically eclectic music was not just the biggest thing in country, it was also some of its best, most adventurous music. Sometimes, it could fall a little flat, particularly when he kept replicating Stardust, but that was part of the charm of Nelson's unpredictability. With Always on My Mind, he teams with producer Chips Moman and embarks on a period of pernicious predictability, giving himself completely over to Moman, who moves him toward rock covers and adult contemporary pop with this record. At the time, it was a huge, huge hit -- his biggest ever, actually, spending 22 weeks at the top of the country charts, selling over four million copies, launching a platinum single with the title track (which reached number five on the pop charts), and winning the CMA's Album of the Year award. Listening to it now, all that success seems undeserved since the album not only plays as the country-pop record Willie avoided making all these years, but by consisting primarily of familiar rock covers, it also plays as pandering to the mass audience he's achieved. This is uniformly pleasant, but it's also rather straight-jacketed, hemmed in by Moman's sterile, synth-heavy productions. With "Always on My Mind" and, to a lesser extent, "Let It Be Me," it works because his production style suits the songs and Nelson sings well, but "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man," "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (complete with vocals from Waylon Jennings), and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" are all flat readings, never showing the spark in either delivery or arrangement that marks Nelson as one of popular music's great interpretive singers. Here, he sounds as he's sleepwalking and turning out product for the first time in his career (at least the early Liberty recordings were a hungry attempt at hits). It may have been a hit, but years later, it clearly sounds like one of his worst records. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released April 29, 2008 | Rhino Atlantic

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Country - Released May 29, 2015 | Legacy Recordings

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Country - Released March 31, 2008 | Columbia - Legacy

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Country - Released August 30, 2010 | Columbia - Legacy

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Willie Nelson in the magazine
  • A tender tribute
    A tender tribute As a musician, an actor, a businessman and a Texan – if not American – icon, Willie Nelson once again proves with this 68th studio album that he isn’t done yet.
  • King of the Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller
    King of the Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller For the younger generations of country musicians, Roger Miller is a character that cannot be ignored. Influenced by the sound of Nashville and flavoured with rhythms of honky-tonk, swing and bayou-...