Willie Nelson: For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price
You already know what this album sounds like. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good.
The title For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price indicates a case where the majority of people to whom this will appeal -- or, for that matter, the majority of people -- can imagine exactly what this album will sound like before they hear a single note. And they'll be right. But that doesn't mean the album is without its pleasures. It sounds as good as you imagine it would, from opener "Heartaches by the Number" through to the album-ending title track.
The pleasures lie in Nelson’s singing, in the songs and in the spot-on playing of the musicians. The latter includes, for six tracks, the Time Jumpers, the freewheeling, sharp Western swing group that includes Vince Gil among its members. The album begins with one of those songs, the iconic “Heartaches By The Number”. Nelson sounds restrained, reverent, but also typically one beat behind where you expect him to be singing, a Nelson trademark. The result introduces the album as sweet and nostalgic -- a caring tribute where Nelson is using his singing approach to emphasize both the tenderness of that tribute and the timeless quality we as listeners will associate with these songs.
The endeavor is obviously intended to memorialize Price, who passed away in December 2013. But there’s nothing funereal or overly sentimental about the album. The tone for the most part is sprightly. Nelson does sing the title track in a more intentionally heartstrings-pulling way, slow and dramatic, with strings. And he reserves that song for the album’s end no doubt to fulfill particular purposes. Ending with such a classic farewell song seems almost too appropriate,
Written by Kris Kristofferson and a No. 1 country hit for Price, “For the Good Times” is one Nelson has sung before, memorably on 1979's Willie Nelson Sings Kristofferson. He's sung “Heartaches By the Number” before too, and "Crazy Arms", and, of course, "Night Life", which Nelson wrote in 1960 and Price sang three years later.
Like “Night Life”, there are several songs here that represent the links between Nelson and Price. “I’m Still Not Over You” closed out their 2003 album Run That By Me One More Time. “It Always Will Be” is a Willie Nelson song from 2004 that Price recorded a version of for his final studio album, Beauty Is…, which was released after his death. Price and Nelson sang the Bob Wills song “Faded Love” together on their 1980 duets album San Antonio Rose, and had a county hit with it. They did Hank Cochran’s “Don’t You Ever Get Tired (Of Hurting Me)” on that same album, and it’s here, too. It appears right before a lovely version of Cochran’s “Make the World Go Away”.
The relationship between Willie Nelson and Ray Price, then, is the chief subject of the album, with the songs themselves standing in for various points of connection that happened over the last half-century. And those songs themselves are how we encounter our feelings and knowledge of both Price and Nelson. For anyone who’s been a fan of either artist for any decent length of time -- and a fan of one is very likely a fan of the other -- these unsurprising but deeply memorable performances are likely to conjure up emotions and memories far from the surface.