Let’s talk music. Now I might be a man of strong opinions when it comes to music, but I make no attempt at seeming like I’m an expert. I’m basically one of those annoying guys who “knows what he likes.” But I can freely admit when I like some terrible fucking things, and when I hate some amazing stuff. It’s nice when what I like coincides with What Is Good, but not necessary.
Today I want to talk about an album that is not only Good but Perfect Drinking Music. And that’s Shotgun Willie by Willie Nelson. I don’t understand how this came out as a country album in 1973. It’s funky, jazzy, funny, and completely awesome the entire way through. The title track starts off with this crazy bass line and simple guitar work. The lyrics are silly, metatextual, and make fun of the Klan on top of it. When the horns kick in you know you’re in for something special. Willie’s classic, often underrated guitar work doesn’t hurt too bad, either. Listen to it.
Then, of course, you get that second track, “Whiskey River.” Now, I’m a man of certain traditions and rituals. When I see a “L’occatan en provence” shop, for instance, I say the name out loud in a terrible French accent. This was designed to drive an ex of mine nuts, but I still do it, even when alone. I dunno, I like this stuff. Anyway, whenever this song comes on, no matter my state or the time of day, I take a glass of bourbon. The lyrics are simple, but exactly what you need them to be.
Whiskey River, take my mind
Don't let her memory torture me
Whiskey River, don't run dry
You're all I got to carry me
I'm drowning in a Whiskey River
Bathing my memory's mind in
the wetness of its soul
Feeling the amber current flowing from my mind
To warm an empty heart you left so cold
Damn, I couldn't find the album version, but here's a good live one.
Those two stanzas are just repeated in between some great music and solos. Everybody gets a turn, classic jazz/bluegrass style. That funkyass bass is still there, and the vocal harmonies are churchly beautiful.
Incidentally, Willie released his own bourbon called Old Whiskey River and it’s pretty damn good, actually. I remember being offered it by a waitress friend whilst in a heartbroken state. I took it because it was nice of her and, hey, free bourbon, but I really didn’t expect much. Blew my mind that a celebrity bourbon could be so damn tasty. Pretty hard to find these days, and it’s not my absolute favorite, but it’s always a welcome sight.
Next up is “Sad Songs and Waltzes,” a sad and funny little tune where Willie tells some woman that broke his heart that she doesn’t need to worry about anyone finding out, because no one will listen to this song. Cake (remember them? Faux Bee June does.) did a good job covering it, I recall. It’s kind of hard to find a good waltz these days. OK, let’s start a movement, Waltzcore. Who’s in? Cotillion INSANITY all the way. Man, we will make some parties that will be THE THING.
The whole album’s great. There’s classic great country like “Local Memory,” more crazy 70s countryfunk like “Devil in a Sleeping Bag” . . .it’s all over the place in all the right ways. “She’s Not for You” is a minor key masterpiece. The Bob Wills cover “Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)” is what we all want to say after that fourth drink and that cutie next to you just cracked the perfect joke and smiled that smile.
Anyway, I can’t recommend this album highly enough. Don’t be afraid if you don’t like country; it’s barely recognizable as such. Just get a tall glass of straight bourbon, nothing too fancy. Sit back, relax, and have a damn fine time with an American genius. (Not me, Willie. Although you’re welcome to try me sometime, too.)