The Year of Willie

Willie Nelson - Tougher than Leather

Part Eight of Eight

First Appeared at The Music Box, January 2004, Volume 11, #1

Written by John Metzger


Willie Nelson - Tougher than LeatherWillie Nelson
Tougher than Leather

Willie Nelson has the unfortunate habit of taking forever to release an album comprised of new material. Even worse, he tends to spend the intervening years re-recording his existing catalog, covering other artists’ songs, and performing duets — all with mixed results. In 1975, he had finally gained mainstream attention with his blockbuster hit Red Headed Stranger, but it wasn’t until eight years had passed that he returned to the business of writing songs and expanding upon his repertoire. The end result was the forgotten, minor gem Tougher than Leather, a conceptual outing that grew out of Nelson’s hospitalization due to a collapsed lung. Not surprisingly, its lyrics were as poignant as any Nelson had ever penned, and its complex storyline, set in the Old West, revolved around the heavy issues of life, death, reincarnation, karma, and eternal love.

Musically, however, Tougher than Leather wasn’t quite as successful. On the one hand, the collection with its recurring themes bore striking structural similarities to Red Headed Stranger, but its ideas sometimes felt incomplete. On the other hand, by employing his touring band in the studio, Nelson was able to capture a loose, easy-going, if low-key, ambience that sparkles on tunes like the title track, Little Old Fashioned Karma, and I Am the Forest. Though the overall suite wasn’t quite as compelling or enduring as his classics, Tougher than Leather was still a terrific effort. The bonus track fuses Summer of Roses and December Day — two songs that originally appeared on his 1971 outing Yesterday’s Wine. starstarstar ½


Of Further Interest...

Part One: To Lefty from Willie

Part Two: Willie and Family Live

Part Three: San Antonio Rose

Part Four: Honeysuckle Rose

Part Five: Willie Nelson's Greatest Hits (& Some That Will Be)

Part Six: Always on My Mind

Part Seven: Pancho & Lefty


Tougher than Leather is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!



1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2003 The Music Box