Last of the Breed
Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard & Ray Price
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Not many musicians could live up to a title like Last of the Breed. But with more than 150 years of singing, playing, and recording behind them, Willie, Merle, and Ray can pull it off; if there were a dollar bill in the land of country, their pictures would be on it. And in fact, they may not be referring to themselves at all, but to this old-school collection of classic country songs by masters like Harlan Howard, Lefty Frizell, and Cindy Walker. They don’t write ‘em like this anymore — well, except for the two latter-day compositions, Willie’s “Back to Earth” and Merle’s “Sweet Jesus,” neither of which breaks the prevailing mood: relaxed, convivial, effortlessly elegant and loose. Their styles and inflections couldn’t be more different: Haggard’s grizzled, bluesy swagger, Nelson’s famously conversational, behind-the-meter phrasing, Price’s countrypolitan croon, still smooth as satin at age 81. Add traditional Texas swing fiddle from Johnny Gimble, the classic Nashville steel of Buddy Emmons, production by the legendary Fred Foster, and backing vocals from no less than the Jordanaires, and the result is both intimate and masterful, the kind of effort that gives nostalgia a good name. You get the feeling these three veterans could record these tunes in their sleep, but that doesn’t take away from the achievement Last of the Breed represents.
I had a hard time putting my finger on what exactly is wrong with this album -- after all, how can you not love 2-CDs worth of classic country from three undisputed country legends? But after several listenings, I can't help but feel that there's something sort of uninspired and hum-drum about the performances. The voices are fine, even remarkable at this stage in their careers, and the accompaniment by giants like Johnny Gimble (fiddle) and Buddy Emmons (steel) is top notch, but there's nothing really novel in either the performances or the material here: Merle, Willie and Ray have done this before -- and done it better, I might add -- and that makes this one sound half-hearted and rather lifeless.
This is what country is meant to be. It is meant to tell a story, and be laced down with a shot of whiskey. These are the kind of songs that I love and can't be confused with the pop-country or neo-country that has covered radios today. This is truly the last of the breed, when these guys die the world will have lost the best of the best.
True legends at work here!
Ray Price (81), Willie Nelson (73) and Merle Haggard (70 in April) have never been better! There artists are still touring actively, playing to sold out houses, and producing some of their best work yet! Having had the honor of being in attendance at one of the Last of the Breed concerts, I found myself in awe of all three of these giants and was left wanting more. We have been brainwashed by corporate radio that the only artists worth listening to are the 20-30 somethings, but this album proves the elder statesmen of country and American music still have so much to offer. This album is amazing in every sense and will be a must-have for connoisseurs of REAL country music, and for fans of these artists. AWESOME!!
Born: April 6, 1937 in Bakersfield, CA
Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s
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