Picks and Pans Review: Spirit
Willie Nelson isn't country's most traveled artist just because he has logged millions of road miles in the last 35 years. He has taken many creative sojourns as well—into jazz, gospel, honky-tonk, classic popular song and, in an upcoming album, reggae. But where Nelson still matters most is on the prairie of despair he has staked out as a songwriter. With Spirit, his first album of original songs in nine years, Nelson, 63, is back on the range, exploring man's painful search for love, God and, in some cases, both: "I thought about trees/And how much I'd like to climb one/I thought about friends/And how rare it is to find one/I thought about you/The most gentle, sweet and kind one/I thought about you, Lord/I thought about you." Spirit is an austere, mesmerizing testament to Nelson's gifts as a storyteller.
All 13 songs feature Nelson on acoustic guitar, accompanied simply by a piano (played by his sister Bobbie), a fiddle and a rhythm guitar. If his vocals sound a mite weary, that only adds resonance to the melancholy. Country may have its share of black-hatted rhinestone cowboys, but Nelson, in his tattered bandanna, glitters by crafting torch songs that singe the soul. (Island)