REVIEW: Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ray Price – Last Of The Breed

Last of the Breed, recently released on the Lost Highway label and featuring Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Ray Price (and some guest stars, but more later about that) is the kind of album I enjoy — legends singing legendary songs. But I needed to get past a couple of things before I could review it, or for that matter even enjoy listening to it, which is certainly part of the process.

First, there’s the – er – age thing. I’m a geezer myself, but sometimes when I listen to singers who are getting pretty far down the path to Codgerville, I find myself spending too much effort listening to how their current voice compares to their younger voice. Fortunately, it’s not a problem here because all three singers still sound pretty good, and even when young they weren’t exactly known as smooth crooners. (Although Price had a period when he was pretty suave.)

The second thing I had to get past was my memory of the songs themselves. Almost by definition, legendary songs are familiar to our ear, but we naturally remember the best-known version by the original artist. An album like this requires a listener to get past that and be open to listening to a particular song in a new way. That might be easy for others, but it’s sometimes difficult for me.

Not a problem with this album, though. These guys – who are all friends and frequent collaborators – know how to wrap their voices around classic songs and make them into a genuinely enriching listening experience. They perform with confidence and ease, and in various combinations of solos (with guests), duos, or all three at once. A good example of the latter is the very first cut, “My Life’s Been A Pleasure”, with the three combining for a warm and engaging appetizer that whets our appetite for the main course, a two-disc album full of treats.

Although most of the songs are vintage classics, some are better known than others, and those would include among them Ray’s performance of Harlan Howard’s, “Heartaches By The Number”, which also features guest artist Vince Gill, and “Why Me Lord”, a delicious version with Willie and Ray joined by the songwriter, Kris Kristofferson. (Another seasoned singer who can still sing.)

Although almost all the album is populated with classic country songs, there is some newer stuff too, including Merle’s own composition, “If I Ever Get Lucky”, which he performs solo, and it’s an enjoyable listen. Other particular favorites of mine included “Lost Highway”, “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down”, and “Night Watch”.

In fact, it would almost be easier to list the songs I didn’t like on this album…except there aren’t any. A great collection from some of country music’s most honored and appreciated stars, still doing their thing and doing it well.

1. My Life’s Been A Pleasure
2. My Mary
3. Back To Earth
4. Heartaches By The Number
5. Mom And Dad’s Waltz
6. Some Other World
7. Why Me Lord
8. Lost Highway
9. I Love You A Thousand Ways
10. Please Don’t Leave Me Any More Darlin’
11. I Gotta Have My Baby Back
1. Goin’ Away Party
2. If I Ever Get Lucky
3. Sweet Memories
4. Pick Me Up On Your Way Down
5. I Love You Because
6. Sweet Jesus
7. Still Water Runs The Deepest
8. I Love You So Much It Hurts
9. That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine
10. I’ll Keep On Loving You
11. Night Watch

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