Given his penchant for wearing light-up Western suits onstage, it's not entirely surprising Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck would record an entire cover album of songs by Robert Redford's co-star in The Electric Horseman. Sure, Willie Nelson has received his share of tributes before, from 1996's grunge-heavy Twisted Willie comp to Carla Bozulich's stark and stunning remake of Red Headed Stranger (not to mention 2004's horrible Outlaws and Angels), but To Willie is easily the finest, diving deep into Nelson's catalog for songs from albums like Pancho & Lefty and 1996's vastly underappreciated Spirit.
"Walkin'" kicks off a trio of songs from 1974's classic Phases and Stages, with Houck wrapping his multi-tracked voice around one of Willie's best opening lines ("After carefully considerin' the whole situation/I stand with my back to the wall/Walkin' is better than runnin' away/And crawlin' ain't no good at all"), while "Permanently Lonely" uses a carefully placed synthesizer to recreate the ghostly vibe of Nelson's early publishing demo (from Crazy: The Demo Sessions). Guitarist Jesse Anderson Ainslie adds a psychedelic country touch to "Reasons to Quit" with the aid of his flange pedal, but it's obviously Houck who owns the show here, layering his voice many times over for the lovely space gospel treatment of "Can I Sleep in Your Arms?" and doing his best to emulate Willie's distinctive Spanish guitar playing on "Too Sick to Pray."
Get these guys to Carl's Corner, stat.
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