Country legend Willie Nelson is a whopping 83 years old, but he refuses to sit still for long, releasing one new album after another and hitting the road more frequently than most modern acts. In the last few days, Nelson has hit us with two videos for tracks from his upcoming record, God’s Problem Child, and I wanted to take some time to focus on each one.
First, there’s “Old Timer,” a slow, moving track that finds Nelson singing about a full, long life that now appears to be approaching its end. You had your run and it’s been a good one, he sings. Seems like the world is passing you by. “Old Timer” is impeccably produced, with the piano, organ, guitars and drums all perfectly complimenting one another. Nelson’s trademark guitar playing does seem to pop up here and there, but for the most part, it sounds as if he’s focused on his vocals while the rest of his band builds the scene all around him.
And then there’s “He Won’t Ever Be Gone,” Nelson’s tribute to fellow legend Merle Haggard. Nelson and Haggard had been playing together a lot in recent years, collaborating on the excellent Django and Jimmie in 2015, and they had obviously been good friends for decades. It seemed almost certain that we’d get an official tribute to Haggard, but that doesn’t make the actual song any less emotional now that it’s here.
“He Won’t Ever Be Gone” is full of references to Haggard’s lifetime of work, and it’s fun to pick up on each one as Nelson delivers it. I also appreciate that he didn’t overdo it with those references—it’s a heartfelt, beautiful song, and if it had been too comical, it may have lost some of its magic.
“Old Timer” and “He Won’t Ever Be Gone” are both just over three minutes, making their point succinctly and then ending. I would have loved another minute on either track, but who am I to argue with Willie? I’m just happy to have what we have. With George Jones, Johnny Cash and Haggard all passing away in the last several years, it’s clear just how lucky we are to still have Nelson releasing new albums and touring. I’ve seen him live twice already, but I sure I hope I get a chance to make it three times in the near future.
God’s Problem Child is out later this month. It sure sounds like it will be something special …