Willie Nelson released his latest album, the wise and warm God’s Problem Child, on April 28, the day before his 84th birthday. Like any great album, it works as a complete statement about where the artist is in his life. God’s Problem Child assembles songs about life, love, mortality and carrying on amidst adversity.
Nelson and his longtime producer, Buddy Cannon, co-write seven of the 13 songs. The selections they didn’t write compliment the original material beautifully. They include “He Won’t Ever Be Gone,” a tribute to Nelson’s friend and fellow country outlaw, the late Merle Haggard. “When it comes to country music, he’s the world,” Nelson sings. “And it wouldn’t be all it is without Merle.” Haggard’s guitarist son, Ben, and Alison Krauss are among the album’s guest stars.
The minor-key yet still optimistic “God’s Problem Child,” another song Nelson didn’t write, is one of many examples of his talent for interpretation. He finds meaning in the song and claims it for himself. “God’s Problem Child” is also an all-star collaboration, written by Tony Joe White and Jamey Johnson, sung by Nelson, Johnson and Nelson’s recently passed on friend, Leon Russell.
Nelson responds to exaggerated reports of his own death with the funny “Still Not Dead.” The lyrics likely will inspire cheers among the Nelson fans who already cheer lines they love during his concerts. “The internet said I had passed away,” Nelson sings in his half-sung, have spoken manner. “If I died I wasn’t dead to stay, and I woke up still not dead again today.”
The album opens with “Little House on the Hill,” a sweet country-gospel tune written by producer Cannon’s 92-year-old mother, Lyndel Rhodes. It’s another comfortable fit for Nelson, with lyrics that follow that great metaphorical country and gospel tradition, Johnny Cash’s moving “Are All the Children In” being an earlier example.
God’s Problem Child, which debuted at Number One on the Billboard country charts and Number Ten on the all-genre Billboard 200, shows Nelson at 84 is undimmed.