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How does he do it? Willie Nelson despite the fact he is 84 years he is still adding fuel to a flame that’s burnt brightly and otherwise ever since he came to Nashville in 1960 (the first time he enjoyed a steady gig that is; it been as bass player in Ray Price’s band, The Cherokee Cowboys). Within a couple of years nudging onto the singles’ chart. Texas-born and Texas proud, Nelson is somewhat an American institution. A genuine survivor that’s for sure. 

Partnered, as he has been since 2008 by long time collaborator Buddy Cannon. Cannon has produced over a dozen of Willie’s albums, and claims Willie to be a jazz singer and jazz player ‘he’s an improvisational musician. It’s different every time’. The stalwarts come through with 11 new most credible songs. Utilising generous helpings of humour and philosophy their songs stand up well, likewise the picking it too is tasty, and with the likes of seasoned band member Mickey Raphael's harmonica never far away ever colourful. 

Title-cut “Last Man Standing” opens the record, and true to its title it speaks of how he has out-lived so many of his friends, people like Merle (Haggard), Waylon (Jennings) and Ray (Price). “Me And You” is as good as it gets, and with Nelson kicking up his heels and trotting out at speed the listener won’t be able to resist the song, and press replay! You’ll find it near as addictive as Willie finds weed. As for Cannon’s claim regards Willie being a jazz singer I have to disagree. He has his own, distinctive yet simple Willie Nelson style. Albeit “Something You Get Through” offers a lazy, but not too lazy a tempo as his voice is supplemented by tasty guitar, harmonica and organ. On past occasions he has struggled to hold my attention on the likes, but here the production and warmth of his tones win me over.  

Cooking up a storm he breezes through gospel warmed “Don’t Tell Noah” (plied in sparkling harmonica, piano and harmony vocals it rocks), and with a melody similar to one of his classic cuts of the 1970s “Bad Breath” is slower and humourus as another song about mortality figures. “Ready To Roar” is a near cousin to the old western swing tune “Stay All Night, Stay A Little Longer”. Superbly presented, it offers all the looseness of a good ol’ fashioned honky tonk Texas Friday night. Follow that anyone! Nelson does just that with “Heaven Is Closed”, and he again touches on some of his past melodies (“Heaven Or Hell”), and with the band cooking up more tasty picking he swings his way through the pedal steel plied “I Ain’t Got Nothin’” like he was a young buck. More Nelson swing blossoms on the likewise killer “She Made My Day”; that sports some great lyrics, and with more than a little humour there is another choice offering and some tasty notes from Trigger (Willie’s guitar) plus sterling pedal steel, harmonica and piano. It sounds more like a show finale than just another song! 

By now Nelson is closing in on the home straight he comes through with steady, reflective ballad that muses of reincarnation on I'll Try To Do Better Next Time", and of how he has lived what is a colourful life. Finally he performs a deeply founded moody “Very Far To Crawl”, I love the electric guitar opening (hints of Pops Staples?).  

Maurice Hope 

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September 2018

The Devil Makes Three
70 pts.
Chains Are Broken
New West
Jimmy LaFave
65 pts.
Peace Town
Music Road Records
Malcolm Holcombe
48 pts.
Come Hell Or High Water
Gypsy Eyes Music
Cody Canada & the Departed
47 pts.
Blue Rose Records
Jeffrey Foucault
43 pts.
Blood Brothers
Blueblade Records
The War And Treaty
42 pts.
Healing Tide
Thirty Tigers
Martha Fields
40 pts.
Dancing Shadows
The Weight Band
35 pts.
World Gone Mad
Must Have Music
David Olney
32 pts.
This Side Or The Other
Black Hen Music
The Black Sorrows
32 pts.
Citizen John
Blue Rose Records
Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis
31 pts.
Wild Wild Wild
Bloodshot Records
Hadley McCall Thackston
28 pts.
Hadley McCall Thackston
Wolfe Island Records
Nathan Bell
28 pts.
Er Gwaetha Pawb a Phopeth
Angry Stick
Curse Of Lono
26 pts.
As I Fell
Submarine Cat Records
Ryan Martin
25 pts.
Gimme Some Light
High Moon
Stephen Simmons
25 pts.
Locke Creek Records
Jason McNiff
23 pts.
Joy And Independence
At The Helm Records
Jim Lauderdale
23 pts.
Time Flies
Yep Roc
Kevin Gordon
23 pts.
Tilt and Shine
Crowville Media
Eliza Gilkyson
21 pts.
Red House Records
Boz Scaggs
20 pts.
Out Of the Blues
Concord Records
20 pts.
Among The Ghosts
Thirty Tigers
Melissa Carper & Rebecca Patek
20 pts.
Brand New Old-Time Songs
The Jayhawks
17 pts.
Back Roads and Abandoned Motels
Lori McKenna
16 pts.
Cn Records

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