Earlier this month, Willie Nelson debuted the first entry in his new archival project, aptly titled Willie’s Stash. This is the first volume of the legend’s new endeavor, and it focuses on recordings performed with Sister Bobbie, Nelson’s sister. Now, his buddies have been doing this for a long time, archival projects are nothing new to Bob Dylan fans, Neil Young fans, or even fans of more modern bands like Wilco. The question, rather, is whether or not Nelson’s similar project stands up against the rest.
Unfortunately, it really does not. The benefit of the archival notion is to greet fans with special recordings that add and give better context to the material they have already grown to love. At the very least, an archival project should have hidden gems that fans go berserk over. At the best, these kind of projects should provide an entirely different view of the artist, perhaps capturing them in intimate moments of their career that have been long forgotten. December Day, Nelson’s new 18-song collection, does not do that.
If there was one word to describe Willie Nelson’s new archival project, it would probably be monotonous. There is not much of anything special about these sessions; they were conceived on the bus ride in between tour stops and Nelson enjoyed jamming along with his sister. Audiences may think that the family element of the record is endearing and personal, but in honesty, they probably will not even connect the dots that it is a family record at all. Bobbie Nelson’s contributions are minimal, and the material just drags on through ballads and slow tempo tracks. They are jazzy, folksy, and perfect backdrop music to a quaint coffee shop, but nothing more.
Band of Brothers, Willie Nelson’s last official studio release, was powerful. It demanded the attention of his fan base, reigniting a flame for his music after over 60 years in the industry. It was daring and challenging, fresh and evocative. It was everything that December Day is not. While tracks like Summer of Roses and Who’ll Buy My Memories are certainly worth throwing into a romantic playlist, the album will put fans to sleep as they embark on an hour-long listening journey that feels much, much longer. Unexpected flare will not abruptly arise like during Band of Brothers; fans can rest assured that this collection will defeat even the most crippling insomnia.
It is a shame that Willie Nelson’s new archival project, December Day, is such a bore. It feels like a record that Nelson got too emotionally attached to in order to realize that not only does it drag on and on, but as it drags on, he repeatedly attempts to put it out of its misery to no avail. It is as if for the first time in 80 years, Nelson got incredibly sober, flipped through some family photo albums, got nostalgic, remembered he had some equally as painstaking recordings from the last time he was sober, and put them all out in one record. Hopefully Willie Nelson and Trigger will bounce back for Volume Two.