Featured here is a reissue of his 1973 "debut" Shotgun Willie, 1974's Phases and Stages and another record made live at the Texas Opry House.
Honestly, the most fabulous thing about this boxed set is the live recording. Nelson is an incredible songwriter, and his studio efforts are, quite obviously, unforgettable. He's forged a great career with his long series of impeccable studio albums.
Which is exactly why it's so much fun to crank up the Live at the Texas Opry House CD. After making your way through a couple of different versions of his biggest heartbreakers from Phases and Stages ("I Still Can't Believe That You're Gone," "Heaven and Hell" and "It's Not Supposed to Be That Way") it's an emotional relief to stick in the live disc and hear him break into ripping down-home versions of "Sister's Coming Home" and "Bloody Mary Morning."
My general beef with boxed sets is that they tend to do this in the strangest of places. I'd personally have preferred to have the reissued albums with one or two bonus tracks, and then a separate CD that features rarities and outtakes.
With that said, the rarities and bonus tracks featured on Shotgun Willie are great tracks. It's just maybe a little too much music for one sitting.
Then again, with MP3 culture abounding these days, this fact can be quite forgiveable. The album translates well to digital players that allow you to shuffle the songs and listen to them at whatever length interval works for you.
Traditional Folk Roots, et al
It's precisely these qualities that shine so clearly on these early recordings. It's nice to look back and be able to understand completely how a man like Willie Nelson has managed to stick around in the National music scene so long. It all started with these early Atlantic recordings, which featured possibly some of the best songwriting of the era.