A year on from the death of friend and collaborator, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson pays tribute with ‘He Won’t Ever Be Gone’, the closing track on God’s Problem Child. The passing of time and mortality rears its inevitable head on a number of the album’s songs. ‘Old Timer’ and the black humour of ‘Still Not Dead’ approach the subject matter head-on but elsewhere there are references to loss and the cycle of life that makes this one Nelson’s strongest thematic albums in years.
Nelson is still in fine voice, with the song selection suitably shaped to never challenge with speed or complexity. It gives the album a laid-back and meandering (bot not directionless) vibe and also allows Nelson to direct attention to his still superb guitar playing – that twinkling fingerpicking, drifting from country to jazz via Spain. The title track, penned by Tony Joe White and Jamey Johnson features their vocals as well as Leon Russell in his last recording before his own passing.
Lyrically Nelson balances the heavier subject matter with lighter touches, with lines such as the clever “You fell in love back in the day, can’t forget her face, can’t remember her name” on ‘Old Timer’ and ‘Still Not Dead’s “I woke up still not dead again today, the internet said I had passed away”. It’s clear that Nelson is accepting what is coming his way, hopefully not too soon, with a twinkle in his eye and skip in his ageing step.