After more than 200 records over a career spanning nearly 60 years, one might think Willie Nelson would be content to hang his hat on a nail, sit on the front porch, indulge in his favorite substance vices, strum a guitar now and then, and leave the record-making to the young-uns. That’s what most country legends would do, I suppose.
But not Willie.
Now 79 years young, Willie Nelson has released Heroes, an all-new recording that is at least as solid and entertaining as most of his earlier work. Granted, he had a little help (more on that in a bit), and he does leave much of the songwriting to others. But the fact is, some of Nelson’s most notable tunes have been covers (anyone remember his version of “Blue Skies”?), and Heroes has some gems on it that are sure to stick in our memory for years to come. Let’s just say anyone who can cover Coldplay’s “The Scientist” and Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe” as though he’d written them himself is deserving of some respect.
As I alluded to before, Nelson had help creating this 14-track offering, most of which stays within an old-school country and western swing vibe. Most prominent in the shared vocal credits is Willie’s son Lukas Nelson, who vocalizes on 10 of the tracks. Lukas sounds eerily like his dad, and at times when the two sing together, it almost sounds like Willie did an overdub track over his own vocals after breathing helium. (It sounds more comical to put it that way than it really is; the two actually sing quite well together.) Other guest appearances include Merle Haggard, Sheryl Crowe, Billy Jo Shaver, Kris Kristofferson and Micah Nelson (another of Willie’s offspring). However, the most unlikely collaboration on the album actually created one of the record’s most memorable tracks. “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” features an appearance by Snoop Dogg, whose only likely common ground with Willie Nelson is a shared love for an herb of questionable legality. (Kris Kristofferson and Jamey Johnson also feature on the song.)
That said, Heroes does not play as a “duets” album, nor does it have the gimmicky quality of, say, Lionel Richie’s Tuskegee (which, in my opinion, is an album that just plain shouldn’t have been made). No—perhaps Willie Nelson is showing his age a bit by all the help he received, but it is very tastefully done. This sounds like a pure Willie Nelson record, and frankly, age has served his signature vocals quite well.
So tack another entry onto Willie Nelson’s stupidly long discography. But make no mistake: this is no afterthought. Heroes is a record deserving a place next to Nelson’s best efforts, and proves that this legend still has something to bring to the table.
ALBUM RATING: 4.5 Stars (out of five)