I have been accused of being old school. Yep. Guilty as charged. While my ears and eyes are open to just about everything – music wise – this black duck has a penchant for being faithful to the roots of music, whatever genre. There is a line out of one of my favourite movies, Mystic Pizza, which goes: “It’s tradition and you don’t monkey with tradition”. If you do monkey with tradition, make sure that you have the songwriter by your side and in your heart, I would add, and someone who knows how to drive that horse and cart.
The title track is a tribute to guitarist Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers, one of the biggest legends of country music. It is also a bit of a connection to the pair’s classic album Pancho and Lefty.
Some of the songs on this album are written or co-written by others, notably Jamey Johnson, Jeff Prince, Jimmy Melton, Buddy Cannon (the album’s producer, who has produced a lot of Willie’s later albums), Maria Cannon-Goodman and Ward Davis. Their buddy, the most prolific and recorded songwriter in history, Bob Dylan, contributes his classic, Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright and my favourite traditional gospel song, Family Bible is there too.
Willie does some co-writes, and Merle does too. They recreate the Haggard hit, Swinging Doors and pay tribute to their good friend, Johnny Cash.
They poke fun at each other, trade songs and verses and sing songs about things that matter to them in a style that is pure Nelson and Haggard. I love Unfair Weather Friend, which is a beautiful ballad. Live this Long is an interesting song, a thoughtful look at their lives, though it wasn’t written by them.
Merle and Willie recorded this album in two days in Austin, Texas. Every song is Willie and Merle, whether it be written by others or a product of their own pens. Listening to Willie and/or Merle is like putting on a comfortable pair of old shoes or trackies. It just feels right. They are like brothers, fellas from a dying race of tradition and a passion and a respect for the bricks that built the house that country music lived in. Willie is 82, Merle is 78, but the road goes on forever and the party never ends, so they tell me.
The album ends with the Merle penned “The Only Man Wilder Than Me.” The target is obvious, and his aim is straight and true. Apparently, Haggard doesn’t feel real comfortable with the Outlaw tag, but I think in many ways, that tag is to set them apart from the weakened spirits of the guys that call themselves cowboys these days, better known as members of the Bro Country gang. It was originally a name given to a bunch of country music guys who were a bit rough around the edges who looked “lived in”. Guys who had lived full lives. If you look at it from that perspective, then the hat certainly fits.
The customary Willie Nelson guitar riffs are featured, though they don’t totally dominate proceedings. The whole album sounds like a bunch of mates got together in a living room and had a quality, polished jam session with some beer and fried chicken and a game of cards and whiskey afterwards. When a lot of people listen to this, they will be in a similar setting, enjoying the tunes like Merle and Willie and the boys were in the room with them. I know that I will be doing this.
I don’t know whether I will live as long as Willie and Merle. I sure hope, that if I do, I am producing work as memorable and as timeless as these guys.
They may have outlived many of their friends, but they carry the flag for them. Respect.
P.S. Another “old boy”, Bobby Bare appears as well.