Sony/BMG (through their Legacy program) has returned the classic Red Headed Stranger album by Willie Nelson to its original vinyl form.
1975 found Willie Nelson almost twenty years into his career as a respected songwriter and recording artist. His relocation to the Austin, Texas area and signing with the Columbia label would culminate in his achieving superstar status along with founding the outlaw country music movement. It would also mark the beginning of his crossover to the pop charts and, as such, his sound would help to move country music toward the American mainstream where it remains today.
Red Headed Stranger was his debut album for the Columbia label. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it 184 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
The album was self-produced and almost totally self-financed by Nelson. It was a concept story about a preacher who shoots his cheating wife and her lover before going on the run. It featured his first big crossover hit, “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain,” and the album overall would reach Number One on the country charts and sell two million copies. It would remain on the Billboard charts for 120 weeks.
Red Headed Stranger was meant to be heard on vinyl. No extras here, just the original release. Having to turn it over to hear the second half of the story only enhances the listener’s experience and appreciation.
For this reissue, the original tapes were used and remastered and the sound is crystal clear. This fact enriches the clarity of Nelson’s voice and also the individual notes of his distinctive guitar picking style.
The album’s impact goes far beyond just the story, though. The music is emotional and, at times, has a rare beauty. I am amazed at how he could take songs by so many different composers and mold them into such a cohesive whole. This release established him as one of the great song interpreters of his generation.
His voice is a superb instrument that shares center stage with his guitar and some almost-gospel piano playing by his sister, Bobbie Nelson. The album has textures and a depth that is rare in this field of music.
The aforementioned hit, “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” and its follow-up, “Remember Me,” are both mournful and memorable. “Can I Sleep In Your Arms?” and “Down Yonder” both have a wonderful purity about them. Tracks such as “Time Of The Preacher,” “Blue Rock Montana,” “Denver,” and “Red Headed Stranger” not only move the story along, but also paint a sweeping musical picture of the old west.
Red Headed Stranger is subtle, intimate, and ultimately mesmerizing. This vinyl edition is a must for any music fan.