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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
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Country - Released September 1, 1976 | Columbia

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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 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 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 October 11, 2013 | Legacy Recordings

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Arriving a few short months after the standards collection Let's Face the Music and Dance, which itself came less than a year after his Legacy debut Heroes, To All the Girls splits the difference between these two albums for Legacy. As a duets album comprised entirely of female partners, To All the Girls is, like Heroes, driven by superstar guest power but the intimate, relaxed feel is reminiscent of Let's Face the Music and Dance. Such a quiet, comfortable setting is welcoming to a wide variety of partners, ranging from living legends Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Mavis Staples, and Emmylou Harris to more recent superstars Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood. Between these two extremes lie such excellent, underappreciated, new alt-country singers like Brandi Carlile and the Secret Sisters, family -- both sister Paula Nelson and Melonie Cannon, the daughter of Buddy Cannon -- and stars who are working their way toward legend status (Norah Jones, Alison Krauss, Sheryl Crow, Wynnona Judd, Shelby Lynne). Similarly, the songs split the difference between new versions of Nelson classics ("Bloody Mary Morning," "Always on My Mind," "Please Don’t' Tell Me How the Story Ends"), covers of beloved songs ("Til the End of the World," "Have You Ever Seen the Rain"), and brand-new tunes (Dolly brings in "From Here to the Moon and Back," which she wrote for Joyful Noise, a gospel musical co-starring Queen Latifah). Nearly all of this proceeds at an amiably lazy gait, which makes the handful of cuts that stray from this path quite notable: "Bloody Mary Morning" retains its trademark gallop with Wynnona; Brandi Carlile hits the honky tonk fairly hard on "Making Believe"; Shelby Lynne gives a hazy south-of-the-border feel to "The End of the World," and Krauss' "No Mas Amor" is dreamy. Although there is not a bad cut here -- this is all assured, easy, impeccably tasteful work from Willie and his partners -- the 70-minute length of To All the Girls does make the album feel a little samey, but that can be a good thing, as it makes for nice, romantic mood music or a drowsy Sunday afternoon at home. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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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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Jazz - Released January 1, 2008 | Blue Note Records

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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 October 16, 2015 | Columbia Nashville Legacy

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Country - Released April 27, 2018 | Legacy Recordings

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Willie Nelson started singing about the end of the line a while back but now that he's in his mid-eighties, he's so accustomed to having death lurking around the corner that he can kid about it. That's precisely what he does throughout Last Man Standing, an album that serves as a jocular counterpart to its predecessor, God's Problem Child. Nelson didn't avoid humor on that record, but the vibe seemed haunted by a looming sense that the clock is ticking away. Willie shakes off this spookiness on Last Man Standing, whose title track finds him singing that "it's getting hard to watch my pals check out" to a jaunty rhythm. Ultimately, he decides he wants to be the last man standing, a sentiment that's reiterated a few tracks later, when Willie looks into the mirror and determines it's "better to have bad breath than no breath at all." Nelson isn't seizing the day so much as shrugging off worries, and decides just to have a good time. Despite being riddled with songs about death and aging, Last Man Standing is ridiculously fun, thanks not just to Nelson's jocularity -- it's not just gallows humor, either; the swinging honky tonk of "She Made My Day" is filled with sly one-liners -- but to the nimbleness of his band. It's no secret that his bandmembers are pros, but it's still a pleasure to hear them play -- they're as compelling sliding into the shimmering jazz overtones of "Something You Get Through" as they are kicking out the blues of "I Ain't Got Nothin'" -- and they give Nelson plenty of cover for working with his weathered voice. No longer able to croon as he once did, Nelson opts for playing around with the rhythms of his delivery, a move that makes him seem limber, adding a sense of vitality to Last Man Standing. Willie realizes he's not going to be here forever but he's made up his mind to make the most of his time here, and that's why Last Man Standing feels richer than so many self-conscious meditations on mortality. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 1996 | Island Records (The Island Def Jam Music Group / Universal Music)

Of all the records Willie Nelson made in the 1990s and since that time, none is more misunderstood or ignored than Spirit. Coming as it did so quietly and unobtrusively in 1996, a year and a half before the celebrated Teatro, Spirit is Willie's most focused album of that decade. Self-produced and featuring the sparest of instrumental settings -- Willie and Jody Payne play guitars, Bobbie Nelson plays piano, and Johnny Gimble plays fiddle on certain tracks -- Nelson weaves a tapestry, a song cycle about brokenness, loneliness, heartbreak, spiritual destitution, and emerging on the other side. The set begins with the instrumental "Matador," which seems to usher in the atmospheric texture for this album. "She's Gone" tells its heartbreak story with as much lilt and pastoral grace as is possible without being sentimental. Willie's guitar soloing is gorgeous; he's deep in the groove of the washes of Bobbie's chords. Hearing a steel-string guitar play rhythm and a nylon-string guitar play lead is an interesting twist as well. But Nelson digs the notion of "She's Gone" deeper into the listener's consciousness with "Your Memory Won't Die in My Grave": "Been feelin' kinda free/But I'd rather feel your arms around me/Because you're takin' away/Everything I ever wanted..../It's a memory today, it'll be a memory tomorrow/I hope you're happy someday/"Your memory won't die in my grave...." And when Nelson moves to the full acceptance issue as he does on "I'm Not Trying to Forget You," the music is slightly off-kilter in the intro, as if the singer cannot come to grips with the song. Payne plays just behind Willie, stretching time, making it slip and shimmer all the way into "Too Sick to Pray," the most devastating country waltz to be recorded since Johnny Paycheck's Little Darlin' albums. On "I'm Waiting Forever" and "We Don't Run," the sun begins to rise out of the heart's bleak night and comes to the dawn of a new day in the life of love and spiritual connection. This is Nelson writing conceptually as he did early on with Phases and Stages and Red Headed Stranger, but he is at his understated best here, moving deeply into the skeleton of the song itself and what it chooses to reveal through the singer. And while Spirit is quiet, it's a tough, big record that makes you confront the roar of silence in your own heart. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Country - Released February 26, 2016 | Legacy Recordings

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When George Gershwin died on July 11, 1937, Willie Nelson was only four year old. A few decades later, we speak of both artists as legends, two monuments of twentieth century music. Perhaps from opposing categories in music, but genius loves company and this fact erases any borders. And this record is further highlighted by the porosity of both worlds. In 2015, Willie received the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, never before awarded to a country artist. This delicious album entitled Summertime - Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin is, therefore, no real surprise in terms of its quality. The nasal voice and of Texan marries to to perfection with the velvet melodies and perfect prose of Gershwin. Among the eleven selected titles, two are interpreted in duet with Cyndi Lauper (Let's Call the Whole Thing Off), and Sheryl Crow (Embraceable You) respectively. At over 82 years ago, Nelson is more crooner than ever here, but in his way that is completely his own. ©MZ/Qobuz
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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 February 1, 1982 | Columbia Nashville

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Country - Released May 29, 2015 | Legacy Recordings

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Country - Released August 30, 2010 | Columbia - Legacy

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Pop - Released April 29, 2008 | Rhino Atlantic

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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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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.
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    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-...
  • The Qobuz Studio: Episode #9
    The Qobuz Studio: Episode #9 Every 2 weeks, Qobuz endeavours to bring you the best in musical releases across all genres with The Qobuz Studio!