One Track Mind: Willie Nelson with Emmylou Harris, “Dry Lightning” from To All The Girls (2013)

Willie Nelson has already issued three new albums since signing last year with Legacy. An And Friends project might seem like the least interesting yet.

And to a large degree, that’s true. After all, pairing the now-80-year-old legend with the likes of Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Norah Jones sounds more like an attempt at cash-register synergy than the focused, yet varied third-act triumphs sprinkled throughout 2012′s Heroes and 2013′s Let’s Face the Music and Dance. There isn’t a lot of spark to be found with more age-appropriate partners like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, either.

And yet, there are still moments when To All The Girls — set for release on September 24, 2013 — finds the right combination of collaborative voice and material — as with “Dry Lightning,” featuring Emmylou Harris.

The track, an album cut off Bruce Springsteen’s stark 1995 album The Ghost of Tom Joad, is perfectly suited for both singers, who explore the lyric’s lonesome mesquite plain reverie with a measured emotional intensity. Springsteen’s wide-skied allusions to evening thunder, loosed appaloosas and missed opportunities gain wrinkled new resonance as Nelson’s oaken guitar hovers over their impossibly sad, intertwined vocals.

Elsewhere, Nelson is paired with Rosanne Cash, Wynonna Judd, Sheryl Crow, Alison Krauss, Mavis Staples, Shelby Lynne and others. In the end, however, you can’t help but think that sometimes — even with an artist as profoundly talented as Nelson — you can have too much of a good thing.


Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at