It is no small significance that Willie Nelson calls his touring band the Family. While only the pianist Bobbie Nelson, his sister, is a blood relative among his main team on stage, the others are mostly friends for so long that he treats them like his own relatives.
Additionally, the Family band has expanded often in recent years to include Lukas and Micah Nelson, Willie’s two youngest sons. And when he closes his shows with a medley of gospel, daughters Paula and Amy Nelson, who sometimes travel with their father, often come backstage and sing.
Bobbie, Lukas, Micah, Paula and Amy appear on the cover of this new album titled simply “Willie Nelson Family”. It’s the first time he’s brought the entire group together for a studio project, though he’s leaned in a family direction lately, releasing “December Day” with Bobbie in 2014 and “Willie and the Boys” with Lukas and Micah in 2017.
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The focus here is on spiritual tunes, with Willie originals like “Kneel at the Feet of Jesus” and “Family Bible” sharing space with Hank Williams ‘iconic “I Saw the Light” and C. Austin Miles’ centennial hymn. ” In the garden.” Paula and Amy’s contributions heavily involve choirs on these tunes, enhancing their gospel choir feel.
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Arrangements are simple, often centered around Bobbie’s piano, as Willie’s longtime partner Mickey Raphael colors the background with harmonica accents. They are mostly short songs: all but two record less than three minutes (a couple have less than two), which adds up to just over half an hour for a dozen songs.
The one song that stands out as the most unusual in the context of the album is also by far its highlight. Lukas takes lead vocals in a transcendent rendition of “All Things Must Pass,” the brooding title track of George Harrison’s first post-Beatles album in 1970. Willie adds seriousness with a subtle backing voice in the chorus, while Micah drives. bass and drum tracks. It’s a beautiful thing, perhaps suggesting an acoustic album of all future Lukas covers.
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Willie’s touring rhythm section of drummer Billy English and bassist Kevin Smith also appear, as does the late Paul English on percussion. The album was recorded at Pedernales Studios in Spicewood, Texas with Willie and Steve Chadie as co-producers.
This article originally appeared on Austin 360: Willie Nelson Brings the Family on New Album, ‘Willie Nelson Family’