Review Summary: The musical equivalent of a shot of bourbon.
Take a poll of your friends. Ask them the following question: “What kind of music do you like?” Chances are that a majority of them will answer something along the lines of, “I dunno, a bit of everything... Except country.” Well, that's their loss, and probably yours too. I'll be the first person to admit that when it comes to my FM dial, the local country music station and its insipid southern tinged pop has been blacklisted. But in all reality, the stuff that takes up the airwaves is about as country as The Eagles. Not very. But there's a reason why Garth Brooks has sold more than 120 million albums. When it's good, it's damn good. Maybe this stems from my affinity for hard drinkin' tunes by bigger than life personalities, but when it comes to me and country music, its “Outlaw” era reigns supreme. Flying in defiance of the colored patent leather boots and rhinestone glamor of the mainstream, the outlaw country movement was a back to basics roots movement that embraced the Americana folk sound of legends like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, while updating it with a healthy dose of Honky Tonk. Today, some of its biggest stars are only known by younger audiences for their eventual commercial cash grabs, like Hank Williams Jr. and his “rowdy friends' on Monday Night Football or Waylon Jennings and his narrator role in the Dukes of Hazzard, and not for their decades of consistent song-craft. Willie Nelson gets thrown in with them too for being the go to cameo in any movie that has a scene with a bong in its script. But before he was showing up blazed on Larry King Live and touring in a bio-fuel bus, he was a country icon, releasing a stretch of albums in the 70's that are classic pieces of America. The best of these is his 1975 album Red Headed Stranger
The Red Headed Stranger
is simple and bare. Following the story of a preacher man that kills his cheating wife and her lover, ol' Willie spins the tale with a laid back nonchalance that just seems to ooze out of him, his aching chords and somber melodies encapsulating the futility and pain of his character's situation, as if he himself was recounting it to you over a couple drinks at an old, dusty, run down bar on the edge of a town that no one even remembers the name of, but it's there, and you're there, and he's stuck in the same rut telling you his life story. The concept itself isn't important as a whole to why this is a classic though. Each song stands on its own as a testament to love, loss, and the dreary happenings that always seem to follow the most broken of broken souls. Sometimes it takes the wail of a well worn old telecaster strumming away some trusty old chords or the crying of minor key harmonica being played from the gut to get across just how someone truly feels, and those moments are in abundance throughout Willie Nelson's opus.
The Red Headed Stranger
is timeless. Willie Nelson's captivating story telling, and the minimalist majesty of his music fills a well worn grove in the hearts of those that enjoy the folk roots of the United States. It's like an old worn coat that should have been thrown out years ago, but it's just too damn comfortable to let go so it collects its rips and tears with dignity, knowing full well that it will always be there when you need it.