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Published: 2012/08/29
by Ron Hart

Willie Nelson
Heroes

Columbia-Legacy

Perhaps the most arresting and thought-provoking commercial on television right now is for the Mexican grill chain Chipotle.

In spite of being funded primarily by McDonalds, one of the worst offenders of the kind of factory farming the ad is rallying against, the message conveyed in the animated spot transcends such inter-corporate catch-22s by “going back to the start” as dutifully stated in country legend Willie Nelson’s gorgeous cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” played during the broadcast. It is also just one of several winning songs featured on Heroes, the Texas outlaw’s anticipated return to Columbia via their intrepid catalog imprint Legacy Recordings.

In addition to his commandeering of Coldplay’s finest single, the Red Headed Stranger also takes ownership of several other beloved Generation X chestnuts across this fourteen cut collection, produced by veteran country luminary Buddy Cannon and featuring prominent appearances by sons Lukas and Micah as well as several of the singer’s most famous compadres. Particularly poignant is his heartened reimagining of Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe” that fills the soul in ways that Eddie Vedder’s baritone could never reach. Also of note, and seemingly out of left field, is a spin on Tom Waits’ Mule Variations ballad “Come On Up to the House” featuring guest vocals by Sheryl Crow that leaves you with a residue of hope that one day these two great songwriters could one day come together in collaboration in the near future. Heroes also finds Nelson pairing up with fellow C&W titan Ray Price for “Cold War With You”, a Floyd Tillman song the two friends originally recorded as a b-side for their “Faded Love” single back in 1980. Elsewhere, fellow seasoned senior Merle Haggard rides in for an update of Willie’s 1989 tune “A Horse Called Music”, while the great Billy Ray Shaver hangs with Nelson and future outlaw legend Jamey Johnson for the LP’s title track.

The songs penned by Lukas Nelson also prove to be particularly affecting as well, namely “Every Time He Drinks He Thinks of Her” and “The Sound of Your Memory”—two compositions that prove Daddy’s unshakable family ethics were not lost on his boy. And while Willie’s love for smoking the good old Mother Nature is about as famous as he is, never has it been prominently celebrated with such fuck-all elation as it is on “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die”, where he forms a posse with Johnson, longtime pal Kris Kristofferson and fellow brother of the sweet leaf Snoop Dogg (aka Snoop Lion) to express the wishes of what Keith Richards allegedly did with his dad’s ashes in the afterlife.

To place Heroes along with the likes of Shotgun Willie, Stardust and Teatro among Willie Nelson’s most revered masterpieces might be a bit of a stretch. But just a few months shy of his 80th birthday, it’s great to see the old man as playful and poignant as he’s ever been in all his half-century-plus in the business.

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