If I were to tell you that the greatest song Willie Nelson has written in a decade or more was a hard-rocking hippie love jam, how many of you would think I'm nuts? As weird as it may sound that is indeed the case, although the song, called "Peaceful Solution," was actually co-written by his son Lukas. In fact, it appears that Willie himself even recorded it a few years back, but apparently I missed the memo. It's a deceptively simple retro rock tune about "taking back America" with a "peace revolution" and, in the wake of the recent violence in Arizona, the song is not only more relevant than ever, but also a reminder in our increasingly divided society that music used to be something we could all unite around. Sam Phillips once said that "music has done more good for the world than all of the politicians combined," and, fittingly, "Peaceful Solution" delivers more hope than an Obama speech.
Although that is undoubtedly the highlight of Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real's self-titled and self-released debut album, it is far from the only thing worth listening to here. Beginning with the Dylanesque Southern rocker "Four Letter Word," Nelson creates a sound that is both a throwback to the time when rock radio was good and a harbinger of the time when it will be once again.
Lukas Nelson has some legitimate songwriting chops, penning lyrics full of depth and displaying a penchant for melody, but he is much more than just an up-and-coming young singer-songwriter. He is also the best guitarist to come on the scene in years. How good, you ask? He covers Hendrix on the album and gets away with it.
Elsewhere, he delivers a funky rock number with the socially aware "Toppers," adeptly performs several emotional acoustic tracks (with the best of the bunch being the beautifully dark "Don't Lose Your Mind"), covers Neil Young's "L.A.," and sings harmony with his father on two tunes that wouldn't sound out of place on one of his own albums. The latter of the two is a sentimental tribute to his parents called "Fathers and Mothers." This subject matter has been covered so many times that new songs on the subject should only be attempted by those with a proclivity for originality. The fact that he not only pulls it off, but turns it into one of the album's standouts is a clear indication that Lukas Nelson should be taken very seriously.
He isn't quite on the same level as his father yet, but he does share Willie's eclecticism and is able to brilliantly pull off all types of material on the record. I can see him having a long and successful career as a blues-rock guitarist or as a country-folk singer-songwriter, whichever he chooses. And if he plays his cards right, there is no reason he can't do both. Of course, the album isn't perfect. Debut albums rarely are. It is, however, my favorite new album of 2011 so far and Nelson is at the very top of my list of promising young artists.