Willie’s back, thank goodness. “God’s Problem Child” is Willie Nelson’s first CD of completely new material in three years, and his advanced age (Don’t look now, he turns 84 on April 29) hasn’t dulled his pen, his voice, or his simple, eloquent guitar.
Strip away the mythology, the rivalries, the battles with the IRS and the fondness for marijuana, and you’re left with the music, its powerful mood set by a soft, direct voice that seems to have grown more expressive over the years. This is a warm, mellow work, with few surprises but many moments to savor. It’s taken decades for Nelson to sound this comfortable and relaxed.
Seven of the songs are co-written with longtime producer Buddy Cannon. They include Nelson’s amused rebuttal of the frequent internet postings announcing his death – “Don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play” – and his succinct analysis of America’s choice of Donald Trump: “We had a chance to be brilliant and we blew it again.”
There is a tang of mortality. The late Leon Russell, a close friend, is heard on the title cut in what is thought to be his last recording, and the final song on the CD is a heartfelt homage to the late Merle Haggard, who recorded with Nelson. Many of the greats from his era have fallen but Nelson’s incredible run is still going strong.