Austin360 On The Record: Willie Nelson, Bruce Robison and more

OUT THIS WEEK

Willie Nelson, “God’s Problem Child” (Legacy). The song on Nelson’s new record that has received the most attention is “Still Not Dead,” a 21st-century update of Mark Twain’s famous quip about reports of his death being greatly exaggerated. Nelson, who turns 84 this weekend, has increasingly fielded inquiries about his health, especially after a string of canceled shows earlier this year. Add the false rumors that spread all too easily in the digital age — “the internet said I had passed away,” he sings in the song’s second line — and it’s easy to see why Nelson and his co-writer/producer Buddy Cannon wanted to have a little fun with it. What’s most remarkable about “God’s Problem Child,” though, is just how strong the entire album is from start to finish. The key is a near-perfect balance between Willie as songwriter and as interpreter. His own seven songs here, all co-written with Cannon, are essential to Nelson’s continuing vitality as a creative spirit. For the other six cuts, Nelson’s choice of other writers’ material is razor-sharp. The title track, a Jamey Johnson/Tony Joe White tune, features vocal cameos from both of them along with Leon Russell, in his final studio recording. Together, the four singers form a sort of Southern swamp-rat Highwaymen, steeping this Delta blues number in deep soulful groove. Equally magnificent, if entirely different in tone, is “Butterfly” by Sonny Throckmorton and Mark Sherrill. With instrumental support as light and lithe as the song’s title would imply, Nelson shows he can carry off an achingly beautiful ballad with as much grace as he did when he sang timeless classics on his best-selling “Stardust” in 1978. “He Won’t Ever Be Gone,” which closes the album, is even better. Songwriter Gary Nicholson almost surely wrote this tribute to Haggard with Nelson in mind: “I would sing some songs he wrote, and he would sing a few of mine/The music made us brothers till the end.” Ben Haggard, Merle’s son, joins in on guitar and backing vocals as Willie sings his old friend back home. It’s the finest moment on a Willie Nelson record that everyone needs to hear.

Check out Sunday’s American-Statesman for a more in-depth review of the album. Nelson’s next local show is headlining his Fourth of July Picnic at Circuit of the Americas. Here’s the video for “He Won’t Ever Be Gone”:

Bruce Robison & the Back Porch Band, self-titled. Mixing original material with tunes from largely under-the-radar Austin writers including Christy Hays, Damon Bramblett and Joe Dickens, Robison’s latest feels like the kind of record that once grew on trees in the full bloom of Austin’s 1970s outlaw-country heyday. “It has this great cacophony of sound of just people having fun, because we really were,” Robison says of making the record with ace local musicians including Geoff Queen, Conrad Choucroun and Warren Hood, plus guests including his wife and Jack Ingram. “I continue to try and rough this music up, because of the way music sounded to me when I was a kid. It just needs to feel that way to me. When it gets too slick, too antiseptic, it just drives me nuts.” Check out our full interview with Robison on mystatesman.com. Release show April 29 at Antone’s. Here’s a video that documents the making of the album:

Renee Woodward, “Mayfly.” This 11-song disc is the first release in 10 years from the longtime Austin singer-songwriter known for her work on film soundtracks and her tenure in the trio the New Hot Damn with Kacy Crowley and Trish Murphy. Release shows April 28-29 at Townsend. Here’s a recent solo live version of the title track:

Desert Culture, “They’re Not Gone.” The latest from this eclectic psych-rock quartet led by singer and songwriter Daniel Vega is a very Texas-centric outing; three of its eight songs are named after far-flung towns in the state (“Terlingua,” “Texarkana,” “Matagorda”). Release show April 27 at Cheer Up Charlie’s. Here’s the single “Elva”:

Beth // James, “All in Life” EP. Neither member of this duo actually goes by Beth or James (though those are their middle names). But beyond that nominal dissonance, the sophisticated folk-pop of Jordan Burchill and Mikaela Kahn on this six-song debut is quite harmonious. Championed early on by Hotel Van Zandt music room Geraldine’s, they serve up an easygoing hometown anthem of sorts with “I Miss the Music in Austin,” a tale of regret sung from the perspective of someone who left it behind. Release show April 27 at Lamberts. Here’s the opening track, “Lion Eyes”:

Tara Williamson, “Evolution One” EP. Formerly a backup singer with Austin classic-soul band the Nightowls, Williamson steps into the spotlight on this five-song EP, titled “Evolution One” because it’s intended as the first of a four-part set. Here’s the track “Get On With It”:

COMING SOON

  • MAY 1: Bobby Earl Smith, “Calling Me Calling You,” release show May 6 at Broken Spoke.
  • MAY 2: Terry Klein, “Great Northern,” release show May 2 at One-2-One Bar.
  • MAY 9: Robyn Ludwick, “This Tall to Ride,” release show May 13 at Townsend.
  • MAY 12: Suzanna Choffel, “Hello Goodbye,” release show May 12 at 3Ten.
  • MAY 12: Rocketboys, “Certain Circles,” playing June 3 at Mohawk.
  • MAY 12: Carry Illinois, “Garage Sale,” release show May 12 at Mohawk.
  • MAY 15: Altin Sencalar, “Introducing Altin Sencalar,” release show May 18 at Elephant Room.
  • MAY 19: Fastball, “Step Into Light.”
  • MAY 19: Jimmie Vaughan Trio featuring Mike Flanigin, “Live at C-Boy’s” (Proper), playing Ap0ril 29 at C-Boy’s.
  • MAY 19: Wendy Colonna, “No Moment But Now.”
  • MAY 19: Wild Now, “Afterglow” EP, release show May 19 at 3Ten.
  • MAY 19: Girling, “Side 1” EP, release show May 19 at Sidewinder.
  • MAY 27: Garner Sloan, “Liquid Sales and Bobcat Tales,” release show May 27 at Stay Gold.
  • MAY: Kay Odyssey, “What’s a Woman to Do” (Little Bit).
  • JUNE 16: Abram Shook, “Love at Low Speed” (Western Vinyl).
  • JUNE 16: Quin Galavis, “The Battery Line” (Super Secret).
  • JUNE 23: Slaid Cleaves, “Ghost on the Car Radio.”
  • JUNE 30: Shakey Graves, “Nobody’s Fool/Donor Blues EP” reissue (Dualtone).

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