Willie Nelson, Royal Albert Hall, London

Royal Albert Hall, London

Next April, Korean war veteran Willie Nelson will be 70. At an age when his peers are not so much slowing down as dying, Nelson maintains such a vigorous schedule that this current British trek takes him to Llandudno and Hereford. He releases two new albums a year, and has been busy elsewhere too, having recently received a tae kwon do black belt. A solitary co-songwriting credit on his current album, The Great Divide, suggests his writing powers are on the wane. Yet the song in question, the title track itself, is imbued with Nelson's trademarks: yearning, regret and stoicism. It slots in imperiously towards the end of a 150-minute set.

Oddly, the attributes that may have militated against Nelson's live performances in decades past (no sense of show, minimal lighting, no banter to speak of, little movement) work for him in his sunset years. He simply stands there singing his songs, smiling and playing his guitar.

What a voice Nelson still has. Reedy and strangely feminine, it remains conversationally intimate, brimming with a sense of wonder and overlaid with pathos. When he sings the first verse of Always On My Mind, accompanied only by his sister Bobbie's piano, it's hard to conceive of anything else being quite so heart-stoppingly beautiful.

Nothing matches that genuinely great moment, though whenever song and voice are deserving of each other, Nelson does not fail. An elegiac saunter through Angel Flying Too Close To the Ground, the veiled threat of Funny How Time Slips Away and the brooding Still Is Still Moving To Me transcend the Albert Hall's difficult acoustics and soullessness. And his guitar playing is as delightful as his voice. Excursions into blues are pointless diversions and whenever the touring septet takes centre stage the mood grows restless. At these moments, Nelson, plucking away in the background, looks very elderly indeed.

· At Croydon Fairfield Halls (020-8688 9291) June 6 and 7, then touring to Hereford, Nottingham, Reading and Liverpool.


John Aizlewood

The GuardianTramp

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