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Willie Nelson

Heroes

Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson has become a pop culture caricature, but he's always carried a torch for true country music. Before being completely taken over by shopping mall idiots in cowboy hats, conservative Christians and the occasional urban hipster, country was the genre of outcasts: lovesick wanderers and bums, drinkers and killers. Revisiting Nelson's best albums – Shotgun Willie (1973) and the Winning Hand (1982) duets collection – reveals an artist truly inspired by, and indebted to, the roots of the genre. His latest album, Heroes, is something of a comeback, mixing covers, random collaborations and new songs. It lacks the redemptive narrative of Johnny Cash's American series or the career revisionism of, say, Neil Diamond's 12 Songs (2005), but it is, quite simply, Nelson doing whatever he wants. If it doesn't make sense as a whole piece, the parts themselves are often fantastic. He scrubs the grit from Tom Waits's "Come On Up to the House," peels the schmaltz from Coldplay's "The Scientist" and does an obscure Peal Jam single one better with "Just Breathe." He approaches country standards like "My Home in San Antone" (written by Fred Rose, who also penned "Blues Eyes Crying in the Rain") with a fresh ear. The new, original songs are hit and miss, but Nelson has always been a stronger interpreter than songwriter. And, yes, there is a song in which Snoop Dogg sings in a cartoonish Southern accent – ignore it. Dig deeper into Heroes and you might find a newfound respect for the aging outlaw.
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