Label: Dead Oceans
We’ve all done it. Admit it right now. We’ve all had songs that connected with us at a level that made us think the song was written with the expressed intent of relating what we, as mere music appreciators, could never convey with as much perfection or insight. Some of us have even used said songs to pass along to a significant other in hopes that the song would offer a glimpse into our true feelings. Some of us still do that and at this very moment are horribly ashamed. Or at least I am. To say that this is what it appears Phosphorescent has done with To Willie might be stretching it. At the least, they’ve crafted a clear vision from 11 Willie Nelson songs.
The album sounds like a hangover at dawn. It kicks off with “Reasons to Quit,” a laggard song about the mornings where we’ve sworn off our vices of the night before. Frontman Matthew Houck declares that, “The low is always lower than the high” as he describes long nights, abuses to the body and feeling a little less invincible with being young and reckless. Each song is clearly one that Houck personally felt a kinship to, as the material for this covers album is all of the same cloth. “I Gotta Get Drunk” is a countrified song that comes closest to Nelson’s style. It’s almost a desperate take on the drinking lifestyle that forms one of the greatest temptations of the road.
But the album isn’t simply an ode to drinking; a number of Nelson’s songs about loss and heartache are also included. “It’s Not Supposed To Be That Way” is a beautiful duet about a listless love, “Can I Sleep In Your Arms” leans towards desperation, and “Heartaches Of A Fool” tells of breaking through the delusion of love and the reality of solitude, something that also resonates in “Permanently Lonely.”
Though the songs Houck chose weren’t his own, he’s developed a confidence and vision on To Willie that wasn’t quite there with Pride. This isn’t to say that Pride was a substandard effort; it’s just that this latest album has a greater focus and its songs have more personality. Described as “an unabashed musical love letter. From one towering talent to another,” the album manages to play to the strengths of both the band and Nelson. The man from Brooklyn is charming, powerful while soothing, depressing, and your best drinkin’ buddy.