April 29 isn’t a national holiday, but it probably should be a state holiday in Texas, because it’s Willie Nelson’s birthday. The living legend of country music is now 87 years old, and among those helping him celebrate is fellow native Texan Edie Brickell, who teamed with Nelson to record a new single that’s out today.
"Sing to Me, Willie" is an alternately poignant and playful four-minute song, co-produced by Brickell and New Bohemians member Kyle Crusham. Brickell begins the song with a bittersweet memory of Nelson’s music being played at her father’s funeral. By the chorus, though, the music has turned jaunty and joyful: "Your voice reminds me of my home/ Take me to Texas with a song."
Then Willie comes in, with couplets akin to Texas travelogue. "A longhorn steer is grazing by the river/ Down in Blanco at sunset," he sings in the second verse, before this lovely slice of Lone Star poetry in the third verse: "Painted ponies, sopapillas/ Sometimes the land is flat as a tortilla." There’s also a trademark Willie guitar solo mid-song.
In a Facebook post announcing the song’s release, Brickell noted that all proceeds from "Sing to Me, Willie" will benefit MusiCares’ Covid-19 Relief Fund. The track features backing from Brickell’s longtime New Bohemians bandmates Kenny Withrow (guitar), Brad Houser (bass), Brandon Aly (drums) and John Bush (percussion), plus more recent addition Matt Hubbard on electric piano. Brickell wrote all of the lyrics.
The pandemic has kept Nelson from being on the road again, but he’s hardly been hiding out. Sequestered with sons Lukas and Micah on his ranch in Spicewood west of Austin, Willie has been plenty busy with livestream events, including last month’s Luck Reunion "Til Futher Notice" marathon, an April 11 Farm Aid event, and a "Come and Toke It" variety show on (naturally) April 20.
READ MORE: Our review of the Livestream from Luck
Nelson originally planned to release a new album, "First Rose of Spring," this month as well, but it has been pushed back to July 3 on Legacy Recordings. Ordinarily that would have been the day before his storied Fourth of July Picnic, which for the last six years has been held at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas facility, but that seems highly unlikely to happen this summer, with concerts everywhere still on hold.
Meanwhile, the SiriusXM satellite radio channel Willie’s Roadhouse will air "Willie Nelson’s Double Down 87th Birthday Bash," a two-hour special, Wednesday and Thursday. (The two-day stretch is a nod to Nelson’s unusual birthday history: He was born just before midnight on April 29, 1933, but for decades his birthday was reported as April 30 because that’s how it got recorded by the delivery doctor.)
The show will feature a live Nelson performance from his Luck Reunion event a few years back, as well as audio from a 2012 Town Hall session in New York. The "Double Down" special will air at 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. Wednesday, then again at 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. Thursday.
Across the two days as part of its regular programming, Willie’s Roadhouse also will play three songs from "First Rose of Spring," one of them an exclusive premiere: "Yesterday When I Was Young," a cover of a 1969 Roy Clark hit. SiriusXM is offering free streaming of its Willie’s Roadhouse channel through May 15.