Another stark transition, from funk & soul to the subtle, understated album from Willie Nelson, “Red Headed Stranger”. This is a hallmark album in his career, and is recognized as much, rated #237 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It is also rated as the #3 Country album of all time, on tasteofcountry.com.
Not unlike Marvin Gaye with “What’s Going On”, this was the first album where Willie seized full creative and artistic control over the production and recording of his music. What resulted was a concept album, an extended story of songs telling the tale of a western cowboy who killed his wife and her lover, and went on the run. What is most fascinating and unusual about this album are the completely understated accompanying musical arrangements. Many of the songs are just Willie singing, with a single acoustic guitar. Occasionally, a harmonica, a drum or a piano works its way into the mix, but not much more. The other interesting factor is that there are several recurring melodies, like the “Time of the Preacher” and “Red Headed Stranger” that keep resurfacing during the connected songs throughout the album.
This album also contains one of Willie Nelson’s most famous singles, “Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain”, affectionately referred to in “Luckenbach, Texas”. Overall, I listened to this album several times to fully grasp the story and the collection of melodies. It was easy to do so, as I have always loved Willie and his voice, and it is so exposed and isolated on this record, it is easy to imagine him playing this album from beginning to end on an empty street corner in a small country town.
If I wasn’t convinced before, I certainly am now… As my uncle’s truck said, “Willie Nelson for President.”
“Don’t cross him, don’t boss him, He’s wild in his sorrow, He’s ridin’ and hidin’ his pain
“Don’t fight him, don’t spite him, just wait ‘til tomorrow, Maybe he’ll ride on again…”