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Music Review: Willie Nelson picks up his pen on 'Band of Brothers,' strongest album in years

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Willie Nelson, "Band of Brothers" (Legacy)

Willie Nelson has written a song — sometimes two, three or four — for every occasion, mood and moment. There's Wistful Willie. Defiant Willie. Repentant Willie. Randy Willie. Preacher Willie. Populist Willie. Whimsical Willie. Vengeful Willie.

Nelson the songwriter returns in all his wonderful guises on the first album of mostly new material he penned himself since 1996's "Spirit," the best album of the latter half of his 60-year career. Nelson wrote nine of the 14 songs on "Band of Brothers" with album producer Buddy Cannon, and each song is a perfect projection of its writer's best qualities. They're comfortable, familiar, well-worn, but also new and different.

Nelson is 81 now, and the new songs make allowances for this. His defiant moments sound a little more world-weary, his regrets a bit more painful. But his sense of humour and philosopher's personality remain undiminished.

"Band of Brothers" opens with Defiant Willie staring down the storm on "Bring It On." Wistful Willie lets the "Guitar in the Corner" play him, Repentant Willie hits "The Wall" and Randy Willie leads us through a tall tale of all his "Wives and Girlfriends," ''but may they never meet/may they never know each other when they pass on the street."

Populist Willie provides the title track, a beautiful display of the sentiment that has made Nelson incongruously both an outlaw and a figure beloved by all. "We're a band of brothers and sisters and whatever/On a mission to break all the rules."

Nelson positions that song between a pair of Billy Joe Shaver covers — "The Git Go," featuring Jamey Johnson, and "It's Hard to Be an Outlaw" — midway through the album, and this outlaw triptych serves as a powerful reminder of why we've loved Nelson all these years.

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Follow AP Music Writer Chris Talbott: http://twitter.com/Chris_Talbott .

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