What to do if your dad is one of the most beloved men on the planet, arguably America’s Greatest Living Songwriter, still going strong (and vital) at 82 touring, recording, cherry-picking well-deserved awards, almost single-handedly saving the family farmer and known for smoking prodigious amounts of the strongest pot in the world? Well brother, you stick with daddy, play at his annual Farm Aid, get tight with one of your father’s superstar friends and go on the road with him. Then put out your own damn album.
When Willie Nelson sang his exquisite “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die” with Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson and Jamey Johnson on his 2012 Heroes album, his sons Lukas and Micah were right by his side. When Willie sang it onstage at his annual Farm Aid concert with Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews, Lukas and Micah were right there as well. Then Young decided against going back to Crosby, Stills and Nash, opting to take Micah and Lukas out on the road on The Rebel Content Tour and it proved to be one of the most kick-ass country-rock tours of 2015. Touring in support of Young’s The Monsanto Years, the three musicians found out that they had so much in common, and it felt so good, they decided to stay together.
Royal Potato Family has released Something Real by Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real. This reporter admits to totally flipping out at how hard, tight and lyrically profound the songs are. Even the chord changes are sophisticated as if Willie somehow had a hand in writing these melodies. But he didn’t. (You think of Willie as a country singer, don’t you? He’s actually a jazz guitarist but don’t tell anyone.) Lukas has obviously learned his lessons well and will carry the Nelson torch on into future decades. His voice sounds less like his dad’s than it did on the recent Gershwin Honors television broadcast that honored Willie. (Willie returned the favor by releasing Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin a few weeks ago.) Neil Young is on one track, a cover of Papa John Phillips’ “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)”, the 1967 Scott McKenzie hit that I remember, as a 16-year hippie wanna-be in Newark, I absolutely hated.
Now Young is taking both brothers on tour with him in Europe this summer and, for his 37th album, will record with the Nelsons again. Word has it that the CD is being produced as one long suite of songs so it cannot be so conveniently chopped up as individual tracks. Young told Rolling Stone, “it’s like nothing I’ve ever done.”
John Raitt [1917-2005] was a star of stage and screen, appearing in Carousel, Oklahoma and The Pajama Game. His daughter Bonnie is one of my musical heroes. I remember the first time I ever saw her whip out her bottleneck slide and use it on her Mississippi National guitar at the old Café Wha? in Greenwich Village opening for comedian Martin Mull. Nobody knew who she was but I went out and bought her 1971 self-titled debut and wore that sucker out. She covered Stephen Stills, Sippie Wallace, Robert Johnson and wrote the kind of songs that left a lump in my 20-year-old throat. Fast-forward 20 more years and I bought every one of her eight absolutely marvelous records that hardly made a dent in the public consciousness. Then came 1989’s Nick Of Time, a boatload of Grammys, and a life of an overnight sensation (after 30 years of plugging away). Six more albums later, her eagerly anticipated Dig In Deep, her first CD since 2012’s Slipstream, is a nothing short of a masterpiece. How does this woman, at 66, still sound so vocally sexy, bluesy and rockin’? How can she still write the kind of songs that resonate so universally? How can she still sting that damn slide with the kind of bravado usually reserved for the likes of a Duane Allman? I have no idea but Bonnie Raitt is one bad-ass bitch of all-time.