Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Thursday, January 23, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Rain 42° Rain

Seasoned Singer At 62, Willie Nelson’s Voice Still Has The Rich Tones And Distinctive Style That His Fans Love

By Joe Ehrbar Correspondent

Willie Nelson Wednesday, Aug. 30, Playfair Race Course

Who better to send off summer and welcome autumn but Willie Nelson?

His rich, wiry vocals were in fine form Wednesday at Playfair.

As usual, Nelson and his seasoned tongue conveyed so much vivid imagery. He sang like it was the end of summer. You could actually see the leaves in the trees turn from a lively shade of green to a crisp golden hue.

And, his voice, sometimes piercing, continues to give his old gems a fresh ring.

No one can sing like Willie. Few, with exception of Johnny Cash and a couple of others, have distinctive vocals that can stand on their own. If it was just Nelson and his six-string, his voice could still passionately tell the story and simultaneously paint a lush musical backdrop.

That’s why at age 62, Nelson continues to be one of the most important vocalists in music.

On stage, his old guitar looked as haggard and worn out as he did. Both, however, boasted their own rich tones and contained lots of personality.

Nelson’s first songs, such as “Whiskey River” and “Night Life,” appeared choppy and kind of thrown together. But that’s his style. He takes a little time to work into his performance.

There were few surprises during Nelson’s performance. He mostly stuck to his old standbys like “Stardust,” “Blue Skies,” “All of Me,” “Funny How Times Slips Away,” “Crazy,” “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and many others.

That was OK, however. I don’t think anyone could grow tired of him singing those same songs.

Further, his delivery is so spontaneous he never sings songs the same way twice.

When the singer did throw in some unexpected twists like a fiery blues song called “Milk Cow Blues,” he was applauded. This song, was particularly great and proved that he can dip into just about any style and pull it off authentically.

Nelson’s encore set featured two songs from his new, independently released album “Just One Love.” Though it was the first time most of us heard these songs, they still seemed familiar. The new tunes had all the sparkle and beauty of his old nuggets.

The singer’s attitude toward the audience should also be commended. The whole night, even when he was in the midst of a song, he took the time to wave to his fans.

A number of times, people threw their hats on stage. Instead of kicking them aside like most performers, he wore every single one.

As soon as our journey down the “Whiskey River” had begun, it was time to get “On the Road Again.” Hard to believe he played for two hours.

Nelson had more than just one thing in common with Asleep at the Wheel leader Ray Benson, the night’s opener. Indeed, both performers live in Austin, Texas. They both nod to swing. They sometimes play together on-stage. And, they’re great friends.

Wednesday, however, two acts cranked out their puffing versions of “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette.”

Simply, Asleep at the Wheel performed wonderfully.

It mixed old standards like “Route 66” and “Miles and Miles of Texas” with its own songs such as “In My Dreams” and “Wheel Keeps on Rolling.” The Bob Wills classics “Corrine, Corrina” and “Big Balls in Cowtown” sounded especially good.

What’s great about Asleep at the Wheel is that the Texas band plays other artists’ songs like they were its own and its own songs like they were someone else’s.

Wordcount: 589

Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter

Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.

You have been successfully subscribed!
There was a problem subscribing you to the newsletter. Double check your email and try again, or email