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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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July 2018
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