Willie Nelson

Tyler Wilcox

'Good morning, America, how are you?' Gee Willie, since you wanted to know: we're not doing so hot at all. But thanks, it was seriously nice of you to ask...

Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson

City: Morrison, CO
Venue: Red Rock Amphitheater
Date: 2005-09-03

Willie Nelson
"Good morning, America, how are you?" Such was the question Willie Nelson posed in song to his audience during a sprightly rendition of Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans." Gee, since you asked Willie, we're not doing so hot. There's that whole Iraq debacle, for one thing. Then there's that rather poor excuse for a commander-in-chief, George W. Bush, who is rapidly on his way to becoming the worst president in this nation's history. And finally, there's that city of New Orleans you mentioned, mostly underwater and descending into anarchic chaos thanks to Hurricane Katrina. How are we? Downright shitty, but still, it was seriously nice of you to ask. "The City of New Orleans" wasn't the only reference made to the beleaguered Big Easy that night. Willie's son and lead guitarist Lucas Nelson took the mic for an impassioned cover of Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Texas Flood". Sure, it's about Texas, but the lyrics ("Flood water keep a rollin' / man it's about to drive poor me insane") were apt, to say the least. And if you wanna get technical about it, "City of New Orleans" is more about a train than it is the actual city. Go figure. A less obvious nod to New Orleans was "Jambalaya", Hank Williams Sr.'s Cajun-tinged barnstormer that came later in the set. That's the one with the jaunty chorus that goes "Son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou!" Very odd. After all, it was safe to say that no one is having any kind of fun, big or otherwise, on the bayou. Was Willie Nelson being ironic? Who knows? Anyway, the audience wasn't there to note the subtleties inherent in Nelson's set list; they were there to bask in the still-strong glow of a bona fide living legend. Despite a career that's well past the half-century mark, the seventy-something Nelson sounded as robust as ever. And he looked good too. He may possess a visage as craggy as the red rock formations that surround the amphitheater, but he still appeared positively youthful as he led his band through a 90-minute set of highlights from his storied songwriting career. The classics came thick and fast: tried and true warhorses like "Whiskey River", "Crazy", and "On the Road Again" were all amiably trotted out. The concert also served as a master class in country music history, as Nelson ran through songs by the Carter Family, Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. The music was casual and breezy -- many of Nelson's backing musicians (including his sister Bobbie on piano, Paul English on an extremely stripped down drum kit. and Mickey Rafael on harmonica) have been on the road with him for decades. Playing these songs is as natural as breathing for them. Not to say there weren't a few curveballs. Willie's latest release, Countryman, is, of all things, a reggae album. Given that Nelson is -- aside from Snoop Dogg -- probably the musician most known for his love of ganja, it isn't surprising that he opted to record an album in Jamaica. What was surprising was how good Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come" sounds in Nelson's hands. It just goes to show that a classic song is a classic song, and a true legend is a true legend, no matter what.

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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'Curb Your Enthusiasm' S9 Couldn't Find Its Rhythm

Larry David and J.B. Smoove in Curb Your Enthusiasm S9 (HBO)

Curb Your Enthusiasm's well-established characters are reacting to their former selves, rather than inhabiting or reinventing themselves. Thus, it loses the rhythms and inflections that once made the show so consistently, diabolically funny.

In an era of reboots and revivals, we've invented a new form of entertainment: speculation. It sometimes seems as if we enjoy begging for television shows to return more than watching them when they're on the air. And why wouldn't we? We can't be disappointed by our own imaginations. Only the realities of art and commerce get in the way.

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Wars of attrition are a matter of stamina, of who has the most tools with which to keep fighting. A surprising common tool in this collection? Humor.

The name of the game is "normal or abnormal". Here's how you play: When some exceedingly shocking political news pops up on your radar, turn to the person next to you, read them the headline and ask, "is this normal or abnormal?" If you want to up the stakes, drink a shot every time the answer is abnormal. If that's too many shots, alter the rules so that you drink only when things are normal—which is basically never, these days. Hilarious, right?

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