Willie Nelson – ‘First Rose of Spring’ review: Country music’s most prolific octogenarian returns with super-smooth 70th album

Still hard at it at the age of 87, Nelson opens his account for the 2020s with a fresh collection of country covers but just two new songs

Firstly, let’s take a moment to be extremely and wildly impressed by the fact that this is pig-tailed prince of country Willie Nelson’s 70th album. 70! That’s a platinum wedding anniversary! That’s 69 more albums than the Sex Pistols! 69 more albums than The La’s! 69 more albums than Lauryn Hill! You get the picture — but mostly it’s more than enough to make an icon out of an artist who released his debut solo album back in 1962.

What’s even more inspiring is the fact that Nelson – who was born during the Great Depression – is now 87 years old, meaning that nobody would really mind if he put the brakes on and spent his dotage doing what he loves best: kicking back and smoking a bunch of weed. But no, Willie is a worker – which kind of goes against everyone who ever told you that sitting around getting high all day robs you of your drive.

Just a year on from the release of his Grammy-winning ‘Ride Me Back Home’ comes the super-smooth ‘First Rose of Spring’. In classic country tradition, it’s a collection of covers with a couple of freshly penned Nelson originals thrown in for good measure. ‘Blue Star’ and ‘Love Just Laughed’ are the new additions: the first a dreamy ballad peppered with some boogie-woogie piano and Spanish guitar, the second a somewhat more ballsy but still beautiful offering in that gentle, tender way Nelson’s been excelling at ever since devastating country and western standard ‘Crazy’ – as made famous by Patsy Cline – fell from his masterful pen in 1961.

Whereas Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash’s later albums – neither of whom reached the grand old age Nelson has – saw their voices dig ever deeper in the soil of life, Nelson’s still boasts a lightness of touch. He might be a soulful elder statesman, but there’s a perkiness to his version of cult outlaw songwriter Billy Joe Shaver’s 1981 track ‘We Are The Cowboys’, which celebrates the multiculturalism of the American cowboy. Here a crooning, swooning Nelson doesn’t sound like a man coming to the end of his prime, but one slap-bang in the middle of it.

‘I’ll Break Out Again Tonight’ is a perky honky-tonk two-step about breaking out of prison, while ‘I’m The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised’ sees the perky octogenarian holding up a liquor store. Even his twinkling, string-assisted version of Charles Aznavour’s sorrowful chanson ‘Yesterday When I Was Young’ comes off more magical than mournful.

Here’s to album number 71.


Willie Nelson - 'First Rose of Spring'

Release date: July 3

Record label: Legacy

You May Like