Album Review: Willie Nelson – Moment of Forever
The lastest Wille Nelson album, Moment of Forever, was produced by Nashville superstar Kenny Chesney and by the first track Chesney is attempting to play the part of Daniel Lanois, acclaimed U2 producer, who produced Willie’s 1998 album Teatro. The production on the first track shares the atmospheric U2-esque pop-rock quality of the Teatro album, but with a heavier sheen, embodied by shimmery sounds, a chorus giving a mystical “whooaaa” chant, and shakers that are supposed to make the song sound spiritual I’d guess. On the very first track, Chesney establishes what will be the biggest problem with this album–he doesn’t have a good idea of what is “cool,” and he doesn’t have very good taste.
This album had a lot of potential to do something very important: to introduce a whole new generation to the genius of Willie Nelson, and to the sublimity of the true country song. What’s more is that Chesney seems genuinely interested in making a good record. You can tell that he’s actually trying, and though he shows a laudable restraint many times throughout the record, the instances where he comes on too strongly simply outweigh the instances where he does something right.
It’s a shame too, as Willie and Chesney managed to pick a number of really solid songs for the record. The Kris Kristofferson/Danny Timms-penned title track, The Buddy Cannon song “When I was Young and Grandma wasn’t Old,” the Paul Craft tune “Keep me from Blowing Away,” and Nelson’s own “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore” and “Always Now” are all fine offerings, and with the right production, along with a handful of other solid songs, could have made up an album that would be able to stand next to Red Headed Stranger, Spirit, Phases and Stages, and the other classics in Willie’s discography.
“Always Now” deserves special recognition. It is the reflection of an aging poet and it explores the challenge of maintaining a sense of personal continuity in a changing world. It’s outlook is Buddhist, but Willie presents it as approachable and homey. It’s a fine example of weighty country music and probably the finest new Nelson song to appear on a record since his 1990′s renaissance. Chesney, however, does his best to detract from its weight and greatness with a conga drum intro and island style percussion throughout.
It’s telling that the next song on the album, the Chesney-penned “I’m Alive,” is the song that Chesney doesn’t get fancy with on production. It seems as if Chesney feels that this song can speak for itself and he wants to make sure that its message gets across. Naturally, its message is that of mindless positivism. “It’s so damn easy to say that life’s so hard/Everybody’s got their share of battle scars/As for me, I’d like to thank my lucky stars that I’m alive and well.”
Not everybody shares my disdain of “feel-good country” but Willie Nelson’s creative legacy as a writer and performer is built on songs that examine life’s troubles, heartaches, and pain. Songs like “Sad Song and Waltzes,” “Crazy,” and “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” stand in direct contrast to the message of “I’m Alive,” which pushes the notion that being “alive and well” should be sufficient to end reflection and encourage happiness.
Very lame, Mr. Chesney.
Speaking of lame, “The Bob Song” alone would be enough to take a star or two away from this album. All you need to know about it is that it has a spooky pirate narrator, pirate-synth flute, casts Willie as a pirate, mistakes itself for being wise, and was written by Big Kenny. ‘Nuff Said.
Also, I love horns, but I despised the horns on this album. When they appear on “Taking On Water” and “Gotta Serve Somebody” they are of the cheesy, 80s, pop, whitebread R&B variety. This aspect of the record was very much a corporate, soulless take on Willie’s Shotgun Willie country-funk sound of the early 70s.
In conclusion, the final story on Willie’s latest is twofold. First, Kenny Chesney has bad taste. From “The Bob Song” to the incredibly lame Walt Disney outros on many of the tunes, to the decision to leave “I’m Alive” the starkest musically, to the decision to muddle the opening track and “Always Now” with silly musical additions to make them seem “cool,” Kenny is flying the poor taste flag and shows why he shouldn’t make a habit of producing other artists. The second story is that this was an overall disappointing album. What might have made up many of the good moments were tarnished by production, and the bad moments were many and close together.
Now I can anticipate people asserting that I’m being too harsh because of my high expectations, but shouldn’t we be able to expect good things from Willie Nelson? I mean, if we can’t expect a solid record from him, who can we expect one from?
Should you buy the record? Eh, if you have a few bucks to spare and want to hear a few good new Willie songs sure, but don’t expect greatness. All and all you’d be better off buying individual tracks as downloads.
The last thing I’ll say is this: Johnny Cash, Porter Wagoner, and Loretta Lynn all helped to cement their enduring artistic legacy in the latter part of their recording careers by releasing albums that were uncompromising. The problem with Moment Of Forever, is that in many critical ways, it was a highly compromised record.
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