Willie Nelson‘s presence on our planet gives us reason to celebrate. His turning 90 years old on 29 April offers us good cause to give thanks. Hallelujah! Where would American music be without him? Nelson has influenced generations of listeners and brought them together through music. There are plenty of honors for Nelson being scheduled, including a series of concerts he has organized. This album is the soundtrack to a one-night show in front of 5,000 fans organized by Texas singer-songwriter Bruce Robison.
Robison is well known for his talents. He wrote number-one hits for the (Dixie) Chicks (“Travelin’ Soldier”) and Tim McGraw & Faith Hill (“Angry All the Time”), as well as had a number of successful records himself (and with his then-wife Kelly Willis). He also penned the classic ode to Nelson, “What Would Willie Do?” Robison has run the Next Waltz, an analog-centric recording studio in Lockhart, Texas, just south of Austin, for about seven years.
Robison gathered several Americana-style country’s best-regarded performers to pay homage to the “Trigger Happy” artist (note to newer fans, Nelson used to call himself this in reference to the guitar he named Trigger). The roster included such notables as Margo Price, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, and Ray Wylie Hubbard. Eleven different musicians contributed one song written by or associated with Nelson to show their love and respect for Nelson. Bruce Robison, Shinyribs, and Nathaniel Ratliff each performed two songs.
Don’t let the title confuse you; One Night in Texas: The Next Waltz’s Tribute to The Red Headed Stranger is in honor of Nelson, the man, not the record titled Red Headed Stranger. That said, Ratliff does a terrific version of “Red Headed Stranger” here and wrings out every ounce of dying love from the lyrics in contrast to Willie’s more stoic rendition. The other artists also put their stamp on the songs even while remaining true to Nelson.
Concert highlights include Margo Price’s bouncy take on “Shotgun Willie”, Sheryl Crow’s boozy version of “Night Life”, and Vincent Neil Emerson’s swinging “Bloody Mary Morning”. Other terrific songs include Bruce Robison’s comically plaintive “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning”, Shinyribs’ cinematic “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”, Ray Wyle Hubbard’s gravelly “Whiskey River”, and Robert Earl Keen’s smart-alecky “Pick Up the Tempo”. There are no bad cuts on the record. The overall impression is that of being at a Nelson concert with many guest stars making appearances, like attending one of the Luck Reunion concerts at Nelson’s Spicewood, TX ranch.
Willie Nelson may be getting older, but he is still at the top of his game. During the past several years, his output has remained as vital and rich as ever. One Night in Texas: The Next Waltz’s Tribute to the Red Headed Stranger reveals how many others revere the man and the extent of his influence, but it is just the tip of the iceberg. Innumerable musicians worship at the shrine of Willie. Bruce Robison once famously asked, “What would Willie do?” The answer is he will keep on making music, as will those who follow in his footsteps.