I’m not a huge fan of the Foo Fighters. I like their singles just fine, I don’t change the station when their songs come on the wireless, but I don’t buy their albums or listen to the deep cuts either. But I am big Dave Grohl fan. I think he is the rock star we all hope we would be if we were rock stars. He lives an amazing life, he knows he lives an amazing life, and he takes advantage of it in awesome ways. Like turning the recording of their last album into a trans America documentary series for HBO.
Willie Nelson popped up twice in that series. In the Nasvhille episode of the Foo Fighters Sonic Highways, Dolly Parton told the story of a young, clean cut Nelson plying his trade in Nashville as a song writer, having some success, but never breaking out as a star. Then Sonic Highways went to Austin and we found out what happened next in the Willie story. He ditched the suit, grew his hair, embraced is hippie, weed smoking, Texas roots, and became one of country music’s biggest stars ever.
Which is why when I decided that I wanted to write about Willie Nelson here, the album title Texas in My Soul immediately jumped out at me. Texas made the Willie Nelson we all know, the Willie Nelson of legend. So an album from his early years, seemingly dedicated to his home state, was the obvious choice.
Opening with a trio of Texas town tributes, we get Dallas, San Antonio and Streets of Lerado. All come with that gentle Nelson sound that seems like his signature. I can picture him gently strumming that beat up, hole filled, old acoustic I’ve seen in so many live videos. And when Willie does quiet, it never sounds soft. It sounds like he’s that old man who speaks quietly, but carries a big stick. In the case of Willie Nelson, he sings and plays quietly, but the heart and genuine guts behind his songs are one big, big stick.
Then there’s the player piano, saloon sound of Who Put All My Ex’s in Texas. It’s a tour of the state and the different women lost for different reasons. What should be a depressing story of constant and repeated heartbreak, is so jaunty, it almost comes off as a celebration of moving on every time one of these broads kicks him to the curb.
Maybe as a Texan, the spoken word Travis Letter is inspiring, heart wrenching and beautifully tragic. But to someone with no context for the piece, it’s a little corny and sticks out for all the wrong reasons. Especially when the song that follows, Remember the Alamo, tells the Travis story so perfectly in that Marty Robbins, trail songs style of western (not country) music.
It would be hard to listen to Texas in My Soul and songs like There’s a Little Bit of Everything in Texas, and not think that the state that inspired it sounds amazing. The words do part of the job, but it’s Willie Nelson’s impossible to ignore and totally infectious pride in, and love for, his sate that makes it sound like a truly amazing place. And really, he ain’t braggin’, you’ll see.