San Antonio country rock outfit Favorite Son, led by singer-songwriter Cooper Greenberg, will pay homage Friday night to one of the most talented and well-known Texans of all time. The band will perform Willie Nelson’s landmark album Red Headed Stranger, in its entirety, at The Lonesome Rose.
The 1975 album is generally heralded as one of the best country music albums ever. It made Rolling Stone magazine’s 2004 and 2009 lists of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It spawned Nelson’s first No. 1 single as a solo artist: his stately and stirring rendition of Fred Rose’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” which is the centerpiece of the album.
For Greenberg, covering the album he knows “front and back” is a way to show his reverence for the music while letting the band add a bit of its own flair to the performance. Favorite Son, formed in 2013, released its first single, “Pearl,” in October and plans to have an EP ready to drop in mid-2020.
“We were looking to do something different, to give people something special, a special event, besides just our original songs,” said Greenberg.
Red Headed Stranger topped the Billboard Country Albums chart upon its release. It was added to the National Recording Registry in 2009, a distinction that recognizes recordings that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”
A sparse and haunting meditation on loneliness and loss, on rage and redemption, Red Headed Stranger is an ambling concept album with repeated musical and lyrical phrases that bind its material together into a multi-layered narrative. Several of the tunes are Nelson originals and others are borrowed from the country music canon, making the album’s cohesiveness especially noteworthy.
The stripped-down album was so counter to the Nashville maximalism of the time that Nelson’s label, Columbia, initially thought it sounded like a set of demos “done in Willie’s living room.”
Greenberg said that, in some ways, the sound he is looking for with Favorite Son is based on Red Headed Stranger.
“The philosophy he had behind the album was such a badass thing – it was cutting edge but still nods to the classics, which is something that fans of any type of music can really respect,” he said.
He praised the album’s “really pretty instrumentation and instrumental parts that are sparse but still very musical.”
“The way he recorded it and the way he wrote it and performed it … it’s this microcosm of his entire career and how he made his impact on the genre but also music in general,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg describes the album as “a timeless story of an angsty cowboy that is still somehow modern.” He sees it as ripe for invention, though he’s careful to imply that the band won’t take too many liberties with it.
Garrett T. Capps, a local alt-country singer-songwriter and part owner of The Lonesome Rose, said he’s eager to hear the band’s rendition of an album that he believes to be “one of the most important albums ever for progressive country music.”
Capps views Nelson and the whole outlaw country scene as laying the foundation for artists making authentic, boundary-pushing country music today, himself included.
“As an artist in a genre that is very closed-minded, even to this day, I look to this album as an example of the outlaw movement as a big inspiration,” he said.
Although he works in an entirely different musical realm, composer, conductor, and Youth Orchestras of San Antonio Director Troy Peters also said Red Headed Stranger has “always been a touchstone” for him, an example “of how much richness you can get with limited means.”
“I listen to it every few years to remind myself that less is more,” he said.
While his specialty is classical music, Peters said that “a cassette copy of Red Headed Stranger was one of a handful of tapes in [his father’s] truck throughout the late 1970s and early ’80s.”
“So I heard a lot of this album in my youth,” he said, noting that he “wasn’t really focused on the concept album aspect of it, but I loved the inventiveness and variety of the instrumental arrangements and the rich sorrow of Willie’s voice.”
He lauded the album for possessing “so much variety and color and expression.”
Favorite Son is scheduled to perform at The Lonesome Rose, located at 2114 N. St. Mary’s St., at 9 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 20.