Portrait of the heart and soul – The Hollywood Reporter

Today, everything and everyone is a “symbol”. But here, at the heart of the five rich and unrestricted episodes, is the real problem. As his 90th birthday approaches, the composer of such immortal hits as “Crazy,” “Night Life” and “On the Road Again” is still writing songs, still performing for concert crowds. . Diving into the one-of-a-kind songbook, directors Thom Zimny ​​and Oren Moverman show how Willie Nelson breaks country stereotypes and transcends genre frameworks time and time again. Their authorized bio – the musician’s wife and his manager is an executive producer – is definitely a love letter, and like Nelson himself, it doesn’t focus on the negative, but there’s nothing simple or naive about it. Willie Nelson & Family is a portrait of a man who made music and lived his own life, in good times and bad.

The series is a reminder to casual fans of the breadth and depth of Nelson’s music, a compelling invitation to the uninitiated, and to fans, four Its hours and a half offer intimate face-to-face time with this traveling soul. Directors visit him on tour buses away from his home, at his beloved ranch in Texas, and in Maui for some three-part harmony with his sons. They curated a fascinating anthology of archives and interviewed Nelson’s friends, family, and a host of fellow musicians.

Willie Nelson & Family

Key point

Time well spent.

Zimny ​​(Springsteen on Broadway) and Moverman (who co-wrote one of the great musical biographies of recent memory, Love & Mercy) shapes the material with cinematic thrust — fitting for the story of a farm boy who is inspired by cowboy movie stars and ends up making a few big screen appearances on his own. Driven chronologically but deepened at every turn by chords of emotion, documentary moving through record, marriages, career ups and downs, floating $32 million tax issue sound, revival. Brett Banks and Chris Iversen’s expert editing techniques interweave existing material, much of which has never been published before, and new footage handled with Bobby Bukowski’s beautiful lenses. Like a good ride, it flows.

The filmmakers’ smart spot for entering the decades-long story is Nelson’s groundbreaking concept album, 1975’s Red-headed Stranger — a choice that signals that this will be an organic story, not a mechanical tale of dots. Given full control of the art by Columbia Records and a record budget of $60,000, he saved most of his band’s equipment and instrument purchases and, working quickly, they created produces a refined sound, in contrast to the polished quality of mainstream country recordings. As Brenda Lee, one of Zimny ​​and Moverman’s many insightful and passionate interviewees, put it succinctly, “At that time in Nashville, the difference wasn’t here.”

He may have spent his time as a cardigan, short vocalist, but Nelson always played to the beat in a way that country musicians don’t usually; Keeping up with him can be quite a challenge, as Dolly Parton attests. As a singer, he is an interpreter no less than Sinatra, whose pronunciation is definitely a rock for him. One of the series’ many exquisite performance clips is the full live performance of “Always on My Mind”. Lee, the singer who first recorded the ballad, recalls that when she heard Nelson’s version, she knew this was “the way it should be done.”

The series’ content runs through, and its main strength, is the way it makes categorizing prepackaged music irrelevant. Immune to fashion and indifferent to marketing trends, from the start, Nelson has been a born crossover. Patsy Cline’s indelible record of “Crazy,” one of his first major hits as a musician, was a hit on both the country and pop charts. Years later, when the label’s execs wanted him to repeat the “outlaw country” formula, he instead forged a creative partnership with Booker T. Jones, demanding that he produces the standard collection star dust. The album was a resounding success whose importance made Jones unquestionable: It connected country and soul.

Such connections, the document states, are essential to knowing who Nelson is. He’s the country superstar and weed fanatic who defied anyone’s expectations by doing a duet with Julio Iglesias. His annual 4th of July picnic concerts formed common ground for blacks and hippies. Wynton Marsalis, who provides some of the most powerful commentary in the series, noted the subtlety of Nelson’s tone and marveled at his fluency in a variety of “harmonious environments.” With great emotion, he described what it was like to play with him, and the directors included a clip of them sharing jazz music at the Lincoln Center stage.

Farm Aid co-founder Nelson grew up on a farm, raised by his music-loving grandparents in Abbott, Texas, writing songs and playing guitar in bands before he was 10 His influences include phonics, polka, the sound of Bob Wills’ big band and his Texas Playboys — “basically a jazz band in cowboy hats playing the guitar,” according to vivid descriptions by Shelby Lynne — and above all, the great Romanian guitarist Django Reinhardt. Nelson’s band isn’t called The Family for Nothing; one of the key elements of its alchemy is his sister’s killer piano, Bobbie, who passed away at the age of 91 in March 2022. Her commentary runs throughout the series. like a rippling river. “Music can take you a lifetime,” she said. “That’s what we were born to do.”

As for her brother’s nomadic way of life, she said, “Walking is just his nature.” Trying to break into music, he traveled the country with his young family, from Texas to the Pacific Northwest to Nashville and back home. The doctor admits that three marriages have not gone well — the fourth, to Annie D’Angelo in 1991, is still going strong — but did not prolong the emotional rift. No matter what his ex says, his children form “one great tribe”, as one of his daughters put it, and have shared the path and stage with him. that.

The material continues with a sense of off-road exploration and it’s robustly built. The final chapter delivers a real punch with Marsalis commentary and a great clip from Nelson’s 70th birthday concert, as he shares the stage with good friends Ray Charles and Leon Russell. Charles is sick and will be gone within a year. Russell passed away in 2016. The clip is full of life. As Nelson said, “You can’t destroy energy.” Willie Nelson & Family Burning with the energy of music, no genre needed.

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