sun 05/07/2020

CD: Willie Nelson - Last Man Standing | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Willie Nelson - Last Man Standing

CD: Willie Nelson - Last Man Standing

Still standing tall: Willie Nelson in late, great mode

Willie Nelson turned 85 at the end of April, a few days after releasing his latest album and a rare set of self-penned new songs, Last Man Standing. “I don’t want to be the last man standing,” he sings slyly on the shuffling, restless opener, “Oh wait a minute, maybe I do…” Last man standing? In several key contexts, that’s exactly what he is. One of the last surviving Highwaymen, a veteran as well as instigator of Texan Outlaw country as we know it, a Nashville songwriter from its 1950s heyday whose signature songs look set to stay with us till the end of time, or until the party’s over, and a poet-singer of the highest order whose fingers still work ineffable magic across the strings of his fellow-travelling guitar, Trigger.

Last Man Standing is the latest in his collaboration with producer/songwriter Buddy Cannon, which began with an early morning text message from Willie’s handset in 2011 which read “Roll me up and smoke me when I die”, and went on to roll into the superb Band of Brothers album of 2014. God’s Problem Child, a fine if less uniformly successful solo album, came out last year, but with Last Man Standing, with its warm, intimate live-in-the-studio feel, and plenty of Western Swing-inspired licks, Nelson has once again hit the motherlode. You’d have to go back to Spirit and Teatro from 1990s for songs of equivalent intimacy and sharp-eyed wit. Some of the song titles read like bumper stickers – take “Bad Breath” (is better than no breath at all); proof positive that halitosis can serve up a mordant country classic – and the hilarious, old-school tears-in-my-beer confessional of “She Made My Day” (and ruined my life). Elsehwere “You and Me” kicks off with turning off the TV news in the age of Trump – Nelson doesn’t mince his words while adeptly hitting the spot – while "Something You Get Through" is a tender, insightful slice of inner life and how you deal with the bad stuff that fortune slings in your path.

Throughout, there’s not a weak song in earshot, just sharp, funny and insightful lyrics and assured, in-the-pocket musicianship, free of the sheen that features on some of his 21st-century releases, and full of the heart and soul of his best work - of which there is a high volume to be heard here. I'd say the best of these songs could sit beside "Nightlife" or "Funny How Times Slip Away" as stone-cold classics. At 85, he's still got it, and in spades. You’ve got to hope this last man standing stays upright for a few more albums yet.

Nelson has once again hit the motherlode

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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