Willie Nelson, “God’s Problem Child”

Willie Nelson
God’s Problem Child
SONY LEGACY
8/10

A lifelong musician, Willie Nelson is a musical icon who, at eighty-four, still performs over 100 shows a year. His six decades as an artist have been as eventful as one might expect for a man who’s counted Waylon Jennings, Keith Richards, and Woody Harrelson as friends.

Arrested multiple times for marijuana possession, he now has his own brand of retail weed named Willie’s Reserve. He’s been married four times, once to a woman who tied him into a bed while he was sleeping and beat him. He lost all his money in the 90s to bad investments and tax problems, and, thanks to his gargantuan appetite for smoking has had decades-long health issues including pneumonia, emphysema, and collapsed lungs. Through it all, however, Nelson has continuously released albums and has written some of the most cherished songs of the popular music era. And his most recent career arc, which started in 2012 when he signed to Sony Legacy, has resulted in combined album sales of over a million and a Grammy Award win.

It would seem, then, that as a well-heeled, seemingly content octogenarian with a legacy approaching mythical status, Nelson wouldn’t need to keep making records, or that he even could still make one as good as this. Yet God’s Problem Child is as sublime an album as he has ever made. Meticulously produced, Nelson’s voice mixes harmoniously with bluesy slide guitars, harmonicas, and pianos on a collection of tunes that veer between rockin’ honky tonks, melancholy ballads, Spanish inflected pop songs, and classic country rockers.

God’s Problem Child is also conceptual, and the subject matter adheres to two main themes: aging and love. After the wonderfully classic country opener “Little House on the Hill,” Nelson “struggles just to get out of bed” on “Old Timer”; “Still Not Dead” is an amusing trope on fake news extremism, and “It Gets Easier” channels a wheezy, aging Richards. The love songs “True Love,” “Butterfly,” and the heart heavy “A Woman’s Love” might even rank among Nelson’s best. The album closes with his ode to the recently departed Merle Haggard, his longtime friend and occasional recording partner; love and aging prove to be ultimately inseparable.

Sixty years in, Nelson has once again asserted his claim to the pantheon of country rock royalty. If God’s Problem Child proves to be his swan song, it will be a fitting coda; if not we’ll be thrilled to listen anew.

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