Album of the Week: Willie Nelson’s …And Then I Wrote (1962)

Willie Nelson has been around the block. By the time he finished writing and recording his 1962 debut album …And Then I Wrote, he was almost 30. It boggles the mind today that Nelson had been making music for years without success or interest from labels. With a reflective lens, we can easily say that Nelson’s smoky-voice and knack for writing made him a talent that was overlooked for a long time. But back then, things didn’t work the way they did today. A 2020 New Yorker profile notes that “Before he moved to Nashville, in 1960, he worked as a radio d.j., pumped gas, did heavy stitching at a saddle factory, worked at a grain elevator, and had a brief gig as a laborer for a carpet-removal service.” The young Texan Willie Nelson spent years doing just about everything besides being the country superstar he is today.

According to one of his autobiographies, Nelson wrote many songs while still living in Texas. Among these is “Crazy”, which became a big hit for superstar Patsy Cline, helping to jumpstart Willie’s career. I knew the Cline version before I knew that Nelson wrote it, and there are marked differences in delivery between the two recordings. Patsy Cline’s is melodic and whimsical, while Nelson’s near-spoken-word vocal in his version reveals more personal pain. He actually sounds kind of crazy, or at least hurt and lost. It’s incredible.

…And Then I Wrote‘s title reflects the fact that Nelson was a hit songwriter long before he was a solo star. And as a showcase of songwriting talent, the album is both an unheralded country classic and an excellent precursor to more expansive and well-known Nelson releases like Red-Headed Stranger. These songs are stark expressions of heartbreak. “If you can’t say you love me, say you hate me,” Nelson sings on “Undo the Right”, desperate to feel something. “Three Days” is darkly comic: “Three days I dread to be alive: today, yesterday and tomorrow.” “The Part Where I Cry” and “Where My House Lives” are brilliantly coded expressions of grief. In the former, Nelson describes his life as a movie (or “picture”) and sells it to the listener-turned-viewer (“I was great in the part where she found someone new”). “Where My House Lives” is a heartbreaking closer: “Here’s where my house lives… I never go there / ‘Cause it holds too many memories” Nelson tells the listener, removing himself from the picture of domestic happiness and accepting the role of lonesome cowboy-drifter that would come to define his future.

Musically, …And Then I Wrote is Willie Nelson at his simplest, but don’t let that fool you. This seemingly effortless collection of hits (it’s one of those studio albums that plays like a best-of compilation) was borne from years of toil, failure and heartbreak. It wasn’t a huge success upon its release and still seems relatively unknown today, but thankfully, we know ol’ Willie got his due. If you’ve any interest in hearing how it started, I highly recommend a listen to this album.

Listen to …And Then I Wrote on Spotify.

Album of the Week: Linda Ronstadt’s Silk Purse (1970)

Linda Ronstadt - Silk Purse
via PC_Music on rateyourmusic

Not knowing much about Linda Ronstadt outside of some big hits, I stumbled upon Silk Purse last year while looking for cover versions of “Will You (Still) Love Me Tomorrow?”, as made famous by The Shirelles. I loved Linda’s take on the song and this quickly became one of my favorite country albums.

Recorded in Nashville at age 23, Rondstadt’s second album Silk Purse is a mostly breezy record, as evidenced by its adorable album cover and short runtime (just under 30 minutes). The brevity makes it easier to love. There’s an undeniable Soul imbued in the aforementioned Shirelles cover as well as “Are My Thoughts With You?” (written by the great Mickey Newbury,), and the traditional singalong closer “Life is Like a Mountain Railway”.

Elsewhere, “Long Long Time” is a wrenching ballad with the album’s best vocal performance, and according to an admin on a Linda Ronstadt fan forum, “Linda was so exhausted after doing that take that she fell asleep in the control room.” The single earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, and was the only semblance of a hit from the album, peaking at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100.

A few years later in 1974, Ronstadt would reach superstar status with Heart Like a Wheel. That’s an excellent album in its own right, but Silk Purse is simply an underrated gem that deserves more love. See a couple great related photos below and a link to stream the album today.

1970 LA billboard via simpledreamin-blog on tumblr, photo by Anthony Fawcett
Album cover outtake via rockcellarmagazine.com

Listen on Spotify