First Rose of Spring

Willie Nelson

  • AllMusic Rating
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

First Rose of Spring Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

The very title of First Rose of Spring -- Willie Nelson's 70th or 94th or 143rd, all depending on how you count things -- suggests a bit of a rebirth, an emotion that hasn't been particularly prevalent on the albums Willie recorded and released during his eighties. Turns out, the sentiment of the title and its accompanying song is a bit of a feint, since there are a fair number of nods to Nelson's advanced age scattered through this 2020 record, but the tone of the album isn't especially meditative or bleak. Instead, First Rose of Spring is sweet and elegiac, a record that sways gently in the breeze, only picking up its pace when it's time to swing through a cover of Jimmy Dean's "Just Bummin' Around." Original songs are few and far between here. Nelson and his longtime lieutenant Buddy Cannon -- who is back once again behind the production boards -- co-wrote the romantic "Blue Star" and heartbroken ballad "Love Just Laughed," solidly constructed numbers that are overshadowed by covers that benefit from the singer's increased heft. Willie revives Johnny Paycheck's "I'm the Only Hell My Mama Raised," turning it into a lament, and he finds a delicacy within Toby Keith's "Don't Let the Old Man," a song written for Clint Eastwood's The Mule. Best of all, he takes "Yesterday When I Was Young" -- a Charles Aznavour song popularized in America by Roy Clark -- and lends an air of elegance and regret to its schmaltz. It's the kind of trick that only a veteran who has been around the track several times before could pull off, and this subtle sense of grace makes First Rose of Spring distinctive even when it sounds quite familiar.

blue highlight denotes track pick