The Texas native’s latest album, A Beautiful Time, which dropped back in April, is his 72nd studio effort, a mind-boggling number that is likely to grow at any moment now. Even more impressive is Willie’s dedication to delivering his music in a live setting. Nelson has toured extensively over the last five decades, each jaunt another opportunity to deliver the Southwest-flavored country and western music he grew up on — an eclectic meld of folk, bluegrass, rock and jazz.
A Beautiful Time is classic Willie, a timeless mix of originals and a few cover tunes anchored by his weathered, ever-expressive voice, straightforward phrasing and elegiac guitar playing. In fact, perhaps expectedly at this point in his long and winding career, Nelson’s voice seems more fragile and affecting than ever. The sweetly swaying album opener “I’ll Love You Till the Day I Die” seems to look back at a one-time encounter that lingers to this day: “I only saw you once/And that was a long, long time ago/You probably don’t remember me/But I thought I’d let you know/That one short conversation/Is still reason why I’ll love till the day I die.” “Dusty Bottles” is just as bittersweet, reflecting on a life well spent: “But there’s something to be said for getting wrinkles/Every song worth singing’s got those lines.”
The two high-profile covers — Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song” and The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends” — are faithful but unique, the latter finding Willie’s voice in rare playful form as he sings, “I get high with a little help from my friends.”
Nelson’s tour, dubbed “Outlaw Fest,” features an impressive, revolving crew of supporting artists, from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit and Steve Earle & the Dukes to The Avett Brothers and Chris Stapleton. The Cincinnati stop features fellow Texans ZZ Top — curiously one of the few artists on the tour that, like Willie, has been kicking around for 50-plus years — as well as Gov’t Mule and Larkin Poe.
Willie Nelson plays Riverbend Music Center at 4:25 p.m. July 30. Doors open at 4 p.m. There are no COVID-19 protocols in place for the event. Info: riverbend.org.