The faculty/staff men’s locker room gets busy at the noon hour with people putting in an hour of exercise during their otherwise sedentary, campus life. The younger men are on a mission: change clothes, work out intensely, shower, dress and get back to work. The older men take their time. They talk. They’ll talk about anything: sports, the news, the garden they worked on over the weekend, but regardless the topic, the subject is actually themselves, their life, how over the course of the many decades they feel in their bodies their thoughts have gained weight. My raquetball opponent, a professor of philosophy who at eighty doubles my age, says his mind doesn’t work as quickly as it used to. He also says it doesn’t matter because his students are always respectful and if he rubs his chin when he’s trying to come up with an answer, he looks like he’s deep in thought instead of forgetful. Even after he’s made this admission to me with a smile on his face, I find myself letting him win at least half of our games.
Savvy since the days he saw in Austin the potential audience of hippie-coboys, Willie Nelson’s latest release, Country Music, plays upon this reverence in a recording filled with fiddles and steel from the “old fashioned country” songbook.
These fifteen tracks feature songs from the luminaries of pre-1950s country such as Ray Price, Hank Williams, the Delmore Brothers and Porter Wagoner, and the musicians Grammy award-winning producer T Bone Burnett assembled for the album feature the masters of the old-time banjo and double bass. And through it all is the voice of Willie: the almost jazz like phrasing and its ageless, nasal quality.
If in concert Willie has earned a pass to talk his lyrics as much as sing them, in a recording studio with the highest quality of musicians and a producer with an ear for nuance, at time’s Willie’s voice doesn’t keep up. On “You Done Me Wrong,” he just sounds old. Of course, Willie has missed before and all in all doesn’t seem to care as he changes record labels more often than most people change socks. But the key to enjoying this recording is to not play it following his early sessions but to listen to it immersed in reverence of Willie.