Last year, Willie Nelson named his autobiography Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, a title recycled from a 2012 collaboration with Snoop Dogg. Neither move did much to help Nelson's portrayal by the mainstream media as a convenient punch line on pot policy who just happens to be a country music icon, too. It's a shame that the former often overshadows the latter, obscuring the fact that Nelson's well-deserved stardom came via a treasure trove of country songwriting that has maintained its power.
In fact, as Nelson closes in on 80, his act is surprisingly intact, especially for a living legend with so many hard-lived years under his belt. True, missteps such as Snoop's awkward verse on "Roll Me Up" have occasionally smudged the prolific performer's oeuvre, but he's recently delivered strong material, such as a take on Coldplay's "The Scientist" that borrows some of the same stark, emotional essence of Johnny Cash's "Hurt" cover. His son Lukas Nelson—whose writing, singing and guitar playing was prominent on Nelson's Heroes—opens. —Spencer Griffith