[Willie Nelson's] early recordings contain versions of some of his most enduring compositions, including "Crazy," "Hello Walls," and "Funny How Time Slips Away," proving that he had already matured into a writer of incredible depth. (pp. 92-3)
Already, the lyrics convey the thoughtfulness and sophistication that would mark most of his material throughout his career. In his songs, he grapples with the usual dilemmas of leaving, being left, of pain, anger, jealousy, and sadness. Yet his attempts to deal with these emotions are often expressed in the wider context of an implied spiritual unrest, or a mortal sadness over the sadness over the passage of time. Some of the songs have almost mystic overtones. "The End Of Understanding," for instance, expresses a yearning for peace of mind beyond the limitations of rational understanding. (pp. 93, 95)
[And Then I Wrote, which was re-released as The Best of Willie Nelson,] is marked with a distinct sort of countrypolitan sound that was popular in country music at the time…. The album features some of his best songs, including what is perhaps the definitive version of "Crazy." (p. 95)
The Willie Nelson And Family album … [is a] musical testament to the end of his frustrating Nashville days…. [The] most enduring and unsettling cut is the song Willie wrote with Hank Cochran shortly before leaving Nashville, "What Can You Do To Me Now." It is a bitterly sad, yet beautiful song that expresses overwhelming frustration and defeat. "What can you do to me now / that you haven't done already / You broke my pride / and made me cry out loud / What can you do to me now." (pp. 95-6)
The most outstanding album that has survived and is still in issue from Willie's RCA years is, of course, Yesterday's Wine, a poignant collection of material unified by themes of confusion and reconciliation in the context of a relationship with God. Recorded in the late sixties, the album is years ahead of its time. Willie wrote all the songs on Yesterday's Wine, and the album has a stronger personal feeling than anything he had done previously. Again, there are overtones of mysticism and strains of soothing religious didacticism….
[Shotgun Willie] shows a return to his rawer, more vital musical influences. (p. 96)
[Phases and Stages] is a more introspective album than the rough and tumble Shotgun Willie LP. It is a concept album that tells the story of a divorce….
[Red Headed Stranger] was also a startling concept album…. The album is built around an involved story line of loss of love, adultery, murder, and finally, forgiveness and redemption. It is like a Greek morality play acted out against the metaphors of the old West and the music of Texas. (p. 97)
Bob Allen, in his Waylon & Willie (copyright © 1979 by Quick Fox; reprinted by permission of Music Sales Corporation), Quick Fox, 1980, 127 p.∗