In 1975 Willie Nelson recorded the album To Lefty From Willie, 10 songs in which Nelson pays homage to Lefty Frizell, reinterpreting his favorites from the Frizzell catalog and stamping them with his own unique voice, reshaping them into his own new classics.
Now Phosphorescent has done the same for Willie Nelson by bringing us To Willie. Here, Matthew Houck has selected 11 of his favorite Willie Nelson songs and does much more than just simply cover them. He has not selected the greatest hits, but rather digs deep, offering renditions of hidden Nelson gems and lost classics. The songs collected here seem cracked from Phosphorescent’s proprietary mold with Matthew Houck’s unmistakable voice leading the way. They feel lived in, they feel weathered and they feel just like Phosphorescent.
Phosphorescent’s 2007 breakthrough album Pride sounded best at the latest of hours–it was narcotic, dreamy and fraught. Following the release of this insomniac masterpiece, Houck toured relentlessly with a solid rock band, turning the meditations of Pride into another beast entirely. Loose and booze-fueled, Phosphorescent put on electrifying performances night after night in which Houck stepped out as confident frontman and band leader.
Without question, those hard-living months on the road greatly impacted the To Willie sessions. Houck’s swagger and confidence shines through like never before – on songs like “Reasons to Quit” and “I Gotta Get Drunk” Phosphorescent rumbles with a soulful groove that was a fixture of the live show, but was never touched upon in previous recordings. Recalling the finest moments of the late-’70s work of Waylon Jennings and Nelson himself, Phosphorescent has delivered a glorious hangover of an album. It is so much more than a collection of Willie Nelson cover songs–it is a full-blown new classic.
But this is not a musical reinvention of the band–Phosphorescent returns with all acknowledged charms in tow; the gentle duet of “It’s Not Supposed to be That Way,” the hauntingly beautiful choir of “Can I Sleep In Your Arms,” and the spacious, synth-heavy “Permanently Lonely” all work to pull this album together as a cohesive statement.
As the liner notes of Nelson’s To Lefty From Willie simply state: “This album is an unabashed musical love letter. From one towering talent to another.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.