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Aural Pleasure Review

Willie Nelson: 'Heroes'

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Unlike too many artists his age, Willie Nelson (who turned 79 in April) gets cooler and edgier with time. His latest album is a collection of country classics from as early as the 1930s and new songs that are as good — if not even better — than the covers. “Come on back, Jesus … and pick up John Wayne on the way,” he sings in “Come on back, Jesus,” one of the instant classics here that sound as if it were written during the Duke’s heyday. Nelson’s versions of modern rock are a mixed bag: His rendition of Pearl Jam’s folk gem “Just Breathe” (from 2009’s Backspacer) fits him perfectly, but Coldplay’s “The Scientist” is just not for him; used in a Chipotle Grill ad campaign for sustainably raised foods, the song closes the album but feels like a forced bonus track. The best of the collaborations (which include opener “A Horse Called Music” with Merle Haggard) is the rockin’ (and appropriately titled) “Roll Me Up.” Guest stars Kris Kristofferson and Jamey Johnson do a fine job with their lines, but nothing can beat Snoop Dogg singing “Roll me up and smoke me when I die.” In an album full of highlights, the stomping, fast-driving version of Fred Rose’s “Home in San Antone” is not only arguably the song’s best version, but ranks amongst the best arranged songs in Nelson’s entire catalogue. “When I feel like braggin'/ I just up and say/ I'm a native son of San Antone.” Play that next time someone disses the Alamo.

★★★★ (out of 5 stars)

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