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Willie Nelson's 'Rainbow Connection' Coming To Vinyl For First Time


09-28-2023

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Willie Nelson's 'Rainbow Connection' Coming To Vinyl For First Time

(UMe) Continuing the yearlong celebration of Willie Nelson's 90th birthday, UMe has added two additional titles to its extensive vinyl campaign of the legend's UMG catalog: on November 10 Willie's beloved 2001 kid-friendly album, Rainbow Connection, will be released on vinyl for the first time ever and his acclaimed It Always Will Be, previously released as a double LP in 2004, will be reissued on vinyl as a single LP. Both records will be available on 180-gram black vinyl as well as a special limited edition color variant, with Rainbow Connection on 140-gram translucent orange vinyl and It Always Will Be on translucent ruby vinyl.

The vinyl series, which kicked off June 23 with his 2002 collaborative album, The Great Divide, was followed by 1998's acclaimed, cinematic, Daniel Lanois-produced Teatro on August 4 in honor of its 25th anniversary. Willie's 2000 ode to the blues, Milk Cow Blues, was just released September 15 as a double LP, while 1996's stripped-back and emotionally raw Spirit will bow on October 20, just ahead of the American icon's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on November 3. The Great Divide and Milk Cow Blues join Rainbow Connection in making their vinyl debuts while Teatro and Spirit return to vinyl due to popular demand after being available in limited capacity but now long out-of-print.

All albums are available on 180-gram black vinyl in addition to a limited edition color variant on 140-gram vinyl, exclusively available at uDiscover Music and WillieNelson.com. The Great Divide and Spirit have been pressed on clear vinyl while Teatro and Milk Cow Blues are on translucent red vinyl and orange vinyl respectively.

Rainbow Connection, released in 2001 on Island Records, was initially conceived by Willie as a children's album but eventually evolved instead into more of a kid-friendly record with adult appeal as he fleshed out the collection with grade school favorites, bedtime tunes he used to sing to his kids, and some more grown-up fare that filled the second half, including covers of country troubadour Mickey Newbury's "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" and "The Thirty-Third Of August." The album with a simple, homegrown feel was inspired by his daughter Amy Nelson who fell in love with the Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher-penned song "Rainbow Connection" after seeing Kermit the Frog perform the song in the 1979 classic, "The Muppet Movie," when she was just five years old. Eventually after more than two decades she convinced her dad to record the timeless song about dreaming which takes on an even deeper meaning and gravitas when delivered by Willie. Co-produced alongside Willie by David Zettner, Matt Hubbard and Amy, who sings on two tracks (her original "Wise Old Me" and Tom Hunter's "Rock Me To Sleep," Rainbow Connection incudes Willie's inspired takes on the children's songs "I'm Looking For A Four-Leaf Clover," "Ol' Blue," "Won't You Ride In My Little Red Wagon," "Playmate" and "I'm My Own Grandpa," which rounds out the first half of the record.

As if transitioning from childhood to adulthood the album grows up as it progresses through life's journey and ends with a five-song song cycle of decidedly darker themes, including "Playin' Dominoes and Shootin' Dice," "Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way," which Willie wrote for the album, the harmonica-laden blues "Outskirts of Town," and the aforementioned Newbury classics. In addition to Amy finally getting her wish of having her dad record one of her favorite songs, Rainbow Connection was nominated for Best Country Album at that year's GRAMMY Awards. In 2019, Willie was joined by Kacey Musgraves at the 53rd Annual CMA Awards for a beautiful performance of "Rainbow Connection," introducing a whole new generation to the beloved song.
A person playing a guitar and a record

Upon its release in 2004 on Lost Highway, Willie's 52nd studio album, It Always Will Be, was hailed by Pitchfork as sounding "just as timely and timeless as anything he's done," remarking it "resembles late-70s/early-80s Nelson albums like Always on My Mind both in its impressively diverse mix of originals and covers and in its easygoing sound." The album, produced by James Stroud, includes a poignant, plainspoken cover of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan's "Picture In A Frame," a high octane performance of the Allman Brother Band's "Midnight Rider," wonderful duets with Lucinda Williams ("Overtime"), Norah Jones ("Dreams Come True"), and Toby Keith ("Tired"), Willie's daughter, Paula Nelson ("Be That As It May"), and a handful of newly penned originals: the mellow Texas country title track, the mariachi-inflected "Texas" and the somber "My Broken Heart Belongs To You," among the many highlights.

The Great Divide, released in 2002 on Lost Highway, saw Willie duetting and collaborating with an incredible roster of artists from across the musical spectrum for a rousing collection of originals and covers for his 50th studio album. Joined by a diverse group of songwriters, singers and musicians, including Alison Kraus, Bonnie Raitt, Brian McKnight, Kid Rock, Lee Ann Womack, the album features such highlights as the Rob Thomas-penned duet, "Maria (Shut Up And Kiss Me)," and the Lee Ann Womack-starring "Mendocino County Line," co-written by Elton John's lyricist Bernie Taupin who also co-wrote "This Face." Other standouts include covers of Mickey Newbury's "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)," Cyndi Lauper's signature tune, "Time After Time," and the title track which sees Willie taking the lead for a Spanish-tinged original. The record comes to a stirring conclusion with Willie and Bonnie Raitt reflecting on regret and the passage of time in the aching "You Remain." The album peaked at No. 5 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart on the strength of singles "Mendocino County Line" and "Maria (Shut Up And Kiss Me)."

Willie's 45th album, Teatro, released in 1998 on Island, found the ever-restless musical innovator working with producer Daniel Lanois to create a lush, cinematic gem of a record. Fittingly recorded live in an old, unused movie theatre in Oxnard, Calif., prominently displayed on the cover, the album mostly features Willie reinventing to great effect a number of songs he first wrote in the 1960s, including 1962's "I've Just Destroyed The World" and "Three Days" and 1968's "I Just Can't Let You Say Goodbye." With longtime friend and frequent collaborator Emmylou Harris at his side for 11 of the 14 tracks, Teatro showcases Willie's versatility as he effortlessly transitions between country, folk, and blues, delivering each song with a profound sense of sincerity while experimenting with new sounds and sonic textures. Willie and Emmylou's take on Lanois' "The Maker" would be worth the price of admission alone but that's just one standout among many. Accompanied by a nine-piece band that included Willie's sister, Bobbie Nelson, on piano, the group conjure up an atmosphere informed by the howling harmonicas and mariachi bands of spaghetti western soundtracks, resulting in an album quite unlike any other in Willie's catalog.

Released in 2000 on Island, Willie's 48th studio album, Milk Cow Blues, was his heartfelt homage to the blues. With his trademark vocals and dexterous guitar playing, Willie, backed by the Antone's blues band and his longtime harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, delivers a captivating collection of blues standards and original compositions, including remarkable blues renditions of some of his classics and earliest cuts. The 15-track album features Willie joined by blues legends B.B. King for his timeless hit, "The Thrill Has Gone," Dr. John on the slow rolling "Black Night," and vocalist Francine Reed on Willie's "Funny (How Time Slips Away)" and the scene-setting title track, with the vocalist transforming both into soulful laments. A who's who of the genre's modern-day torchbearers such as Keb Mo, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang and Susan Tedeschi display their blues chops alongside Willie, from Tedeschi belting on Willie's immortal "Crazy" and Lang, Mo and Shepherd playing up a storm of blues guitar on "Ain't Nobody's Business," "Outskirts Of Town," and "Texas Flood." Willie digs deep into his catalog to revisit some of his earliest songs, including "Rainy Day Blues" (with Lang) and "Night Life" (with King) which were released in 1960 by Paul Buskirk and His Little Men featuring Hugh Nelson (aka Willie). Critics praised the record, with Rolling Stone exclaiming, "like everything else he plays, Nelson's blues are unforced and natural," adding, "the result is emotionally rich, musically savory and languidly blue from end to end." Texas Monthly meanwhile said the "gorgeous solo reading of Bob Wills' 'Sittin' on Top of the World' that should forever bridge the gap between western swing and blues winds up being the album's most spine-tingling moment."

Spirit, released in 1996 on Island as his 44th studio album, saw the songwriter return to his roots for what critics deemed his most focused album of that decade. Self-produced and featuring a stripped back band - Willie and Jody Payne on guitars, Bobbie Nelson on piano, and legendary country fiddler Johnny Gimble (Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys), Willie, as All Music wrote "weaves a tapestry, a song cycle about brokenness, loneliness, heartbreak, spiritual destitution, and emerging on the other side." The 12 original compositions delve into themes of love, loss, redemption, and the human experience and showcase Willie's well-traveled voice and Spanish-inflected guitar playing, accompanied by sparse instrumentation; the antithesis to the kind of country music that dominated the airwaves in the mid '90s. Some of the many highlights include "I'm Not Trying To Forget You Anymore," "Too Sick To Pray" and "I Thought About You, Lord." While well received upon release, Spirit has only grown in stature over the years as it continues to be discovered and revisited by new and longtime fans alike. In 2020, Texas Monthly ranked it #10 when ranking Willie's more than 150 albums, a jaw-dropping mix of studio recordings, live albums and anthologies.

Willie's music continues to endure and captivate audiences more than ever, and now fans have even more ways to enjoy these six classic albums.

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