What does an 81-year old country music legend do to keep life interesting for himself? Go back to something he’s good at: writing songs. This is, astonishingly, the first Willie Nelson album to be dominated by self-penned material since the one-two punch of "Spirit" and "Teatro," released more than 15 years ago. Less astonishingly, it’s his best work by far since then, almost completely free of the questionable song choices and duet overloads that marred his albums in the intervening years. (Sure enough, the sole duet here, with Jamey Johnson on a cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s “The Git Go,” is also the weakest track, despite its warm, wizened gospel-blues vibe.)
Right from the first few jaunty seconds of the opener, “Bring It On” — the wailing harmonica, the swooping pedal steel and the wry initial couplet, “They say there is no gain without pain/Well, I must be gaining a lot” — "Band of Brothers" bears all the marks of an old-fashioned country gem. The nine new originals (out of 14 total tracks) are sharp and often hilarious. “Wives and Girlfriends” is practically a three-minute stand-up routine, while “I Thought I Left You” compares an ex-lover to measles and whooping cough against the backdrop of a stately ballad.
Nelson’s casually conversational singing, with its sudden drops into the bass register and unmistakable natural tremolo, is as good as it has ever been, and the same goes for his ragged but right mariachi-jazz guitar solos. In his ninth decade, this Texas troubadour still is making music that can match anything in his long, distinguished catalog.