Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits

Americana.

That’s perhaps the best way to refer to Willie Nelson’s music. Yes, you’ll probably have to tune into a country radio station to hear his songs, but Willie goes far beyond country. The songs he writes are so ingrained with the roots of what America truly was, is, and hopefully will be for years to come.

Willie Nelson has always written his songs from a place deep in his heart. And when he performs a song written by somebody else he always makes the song his own, like it’s the first time you’ve heard it. Even though you know he’s not the first to play and sing a particular song, his becomes a definitive version of the song.

Although Willie Nelson is considered to be a country music performer. Even to tag him as one the pioneering artist who defines “outlaw country” seems a disservice. Willie Nelson’s music is beyond that. It defines itself; just as it defines the innocence and pride, the trials and tribulations, the sentimentality and hope of what can only be referred to as “Americana”.

Kris Kristofferson – Jesus Was A Capricorn

Kris Kristofferson is one of the originators of what is now known as outlaw country. All that really means was that his music, in many ways, eschews traditional country music and at times, crosses over with rock and roll. Kristofferson has a DIY, singer songwriter style that both meshed with and cut across the grain of what was popular in country and rock. He wrote, sung, and played songs that were deep-rooted and highly personal. Much in the way Hank Williams changed the sound of country and influenced rock music in the ’50s, Kristofferson, along with a few other “outlaws” from the ’60s and ’70s, redefined country music for a new generation, opening the door for southern rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, and Charlie Daniels.

Quite often, Kris Kristofferson’s songs shared as much in common with Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan as with Merle Haggard and George Jones. Like his other albums, “Jesus was a Capricorn” isn’t an album filled with fiddles and twangy guitars (although there is lap-steel and dobro). It’s an album that focusses on roots and emotion, dedication and defiance.

“Jesus Was a Capricorn”, like the rest of Kristofferson’s catalog, is not really country or rock and roll. He is of that rare breed of performers that fits somewhere in between definitions and outside genres. In a true DIY style, with albums like “Jesus Was a Capricorn”, Kris Kristofferson defined something new with his music; something called outlaw country.

The Charlie Daniels Band – Greatest Hits

I worked in radio from the mid-eighties to the early 90s. My first radio station was a small market country station in the thumb of Michigan, WLEW. The nice thing about being a DJ at a small-market radio station is, for the most part, you get to play what you want. I played a lot of Charlie Daniels while I was there.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that knows me that I’m a rocker. To me, the Charlie Daniels Band was always the perfect combination of rock and country music. Best known for his fiddle-playing, Charlie Daniels was also an accomplished guitar, banjo, mandolin and bass player. 

As should be expected from any Greatest Hits compilation, every song on this album is exceptional. But there are definitely some standouts.

“The Legend of Wooley Swamp” is probably the least traditional country song Charlie Daniels ever did. If it weren’t for his North Carolina accent, it might not even be associated with country music. It tells the story of a swampland that’s haunted by the ghost of a greedy old man who was murdered for his money.

On the other end of the spectrum is “The South’s Gonna Do It Again”. Opening and closing with Charlie’s signature fiddle playing, it pays homage to the other country and southern rock performers that were becoming popular at that time. 

“Still in Saigon” paints a poignant picture of a solder who has returned from the Vietnam war. After surviving a brutal war, he returns home only to be tormented by his memories and finding himself hated and chastised by many of the people around him. Sadly this is an accurate depiction for many who fought in Vietnam.

“In America” is a song written following the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 and the recession the American economy was dealing with at the same time. It is a patriotic and prideful song with a strong “United We Stand” message.

“Long Haired Country Boy was the first song I had ever heard by The Charlie Daniels Band. A simple song about living a simple life. Simply, one of my favorites.

“Uneasy Rider” was Charlie Daniels’ first hit single. It’s a humorous song in which Charlie’s car has a tire blowout down in a redneck town where they don’t take kindly to “long-haired hippies.” When his hair falls out from under his hat, he has to fast-talk his way out of trouble…and drive away even faster. Luckily, the tire was fixed in the nick of time.

And then there’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, which needs no introduction. It’s the CDB’s most famous song and proves that among fiddle players, he is the best of the best. 

I have had the pleasure of seeing Charlie Daniels live, in concert three times. The most memorable was in Nashville, Tennessee, at Volunteer Jam 8, a benefit concert he would put on every year. I was standing near the front of the crowd when he tossed one of his bows out into the audience. I saw it flying towards me  I reached up,  jumped just a little bit, and touched it ever so briefly as it bounced off my fingertips. 

So close.

The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams

Hank Williams was one of the greatest American songwriters ever. He died way too early at only 29 years old, yet he left us with so many great and influential songs. But he also left many more songs unrecorded. He always wrote the lyrics to his songs first, usually putting them to music shortly before recording them, sometimes right in the studio.  All the lyrics on this album are from notebooks that Hank kept his future songs in.  The artists on this album were asked to select a song from Hank’s notebooks, write the music for it and record it.  The results were amazing, and an incredibly heartfelt tribute.

Although all of the artists on this album are self-proclaimed Hank Williams fans, not all are country music stars. Along side Alan Jackson, Merle Haggard, Patty Loveless, Vince Gill and Rodney Crowell, are Jack White, Noah Jones, Bob Dylan, Jacob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Lucinda Williams, and Levon Helm. Plus, as a special treat, one song was done by Holly Williams, Hank’s granddaughter, with her dad, Hank Williams Jr. singing backing vocals.

A bit of Hank trivia: his real name wasn’t Hank, it was Hiram King Williams.