Today marks the release of Willie’s Stash, Volume I, December Day, the first in a series of archival recordings by Willie Nelson. The album’s eighteen tracks feature Nelson as well as his sister, Bobbie, a frequent member of Nelson’s band and a formidable country musician in her own right. Other members of Nelson’s road band also put in occasional welcome appearances on the tracks. The album includes two previously unreleased compositions as well as unreleased versions of familiar Nelson songs.
Growing up and learning to make music together in the tiny town of Abbot, Texas, there have been few more natural, beautiful or genuinely symbiotic artistic partnerships in the history of country music than between the Nelson siblings. Both lyrically and musically, the album seems to both draw from and build upon their eight decades of shared experiences and musical journeys.
The album is also noteworthy for a number of intriguing, if somewhat counterintuitive, covers. Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” remains a jazz-standard to this day. “The Anniversary Song” is Al Jolson and Saul Chaplin’s take on “Waves of the Danube,” a 19th century Romanian waltz. “Mona Lisa,” written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, is best known through Nat King Cole’s 1950 version. That having been said, Nelson has covered the tune previously, and it responds as delightfully to his unique vocals as to Cole’s equally distinctive crooning. The album also includes two covers of well-known pieces by American composer Irving Berlin, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” which became an international hit when it was released in 1911, and “What’ll I do” a ballad of lovers’ lament from 1924. The Willie’s Stash version of “What’ll I do,” will appeal to fans of Nelson and his band for another reason, it features Dan “Bee” Spears, Nelson’s longtime bassist, who passed in 2011.
Serious Nelson/country music fans will also appreciate the album’s liner notes, composed by Nelson’s celebrated harmonica player, Mickey Raphael.
Nelson has already released two singles from the album.
“Laws of Nature” is a slow, sentimental piece with minimal instrumentation, emphasizing Nelson’s voice and acoustic guitar work. With refrains such as “I get my energy from the sun,” “I get my oxygen from the air” and “I get my water from the rain, and if it don’t rain I’ll die. Stormy weather saves my life, sometimes I laugh and wonder why” the song can simultaneously by heard as a celebration of classic country living and as a quiet environmental anthem—all served up with a healthy dose of FarmAid populism.
The second single, “Who’ll Buy My Memories,” is another slow, minimalist piece combining Nelson’s voice and guitar with Bobbie Nelson’s virtuoso country piano playing. As originally released in 1992 on The IRS Tapes album, an attempt by Nelson to clear up his infamous or celebrated (take your pick) tax troubles, the song had a much more immediate and tongue-in-cheek meaning. Twenty years on, “Who’ll Buy My Memories” now feels like an entirely different song, a bittersweet piece diving headfirst into nostalgia while also poetically inquiring into the nature and meaning of nostalgia itself.
Willie’s Stash, Volume I, December Day, goes on sale December 2, 2014. It is released on the Legacy label. For serious collectors, yes, it will also be available on vinyl.