Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

Willie Nelson, “Last Man Standing” — “The strongest yet” (review)

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

Willie Nelson, Last Man Standing
by: Tim Stegall

“I don’t want to be the last man standing,” intones the most recognizable voice in country music over the driving rumba of his 67th studio LP’s title track. “But, wait a minute,” he second-guesses the punch line. “Maybe I do.” Willie Nelson’s 12th collaboration with co-producer and co-songwriter Buddy Cannon proves every bit as fruitful as the last 11, here yielding 11 killer new originals in a creative renaissance that’s seen Abbott’s first son release three of his strongest sets, including 2014’s Band of Brothers and 2017’s God’s Problem Child, all country chart-toppers.

The playing bristles with energy, led by crackling drums, Mickey Raphael’s wailing harmonica, and the seasoned bark of the singer’s stalwart guitar Trigger taking pride of place in Cannon’s sonically rich production. Front and center is that familiar, reedy voice, aged to perfection and delivering some of the best lines he’s written. Country-boogie groover “Don’t Tell Noah” advises, “Don’t quit trying to change the government and make them see how wrong they went.” Meanwhile, drinker’s waltz “Bad Breath” laments, “Halitosis is a word I never could spell, but bad breath is better than no breath at all.”

Willie Nelson, 85, keeps going from strength-to-strength, and Last Man Standing is the strongest yet.

Finding Willie Nelson in Austin

Friday, May 11th, 2018

photo:  Jay Janner
by:  Dave Thomas

There are two kinds of people in Austin: Those that remember old Austin and those who will start remembering old Austin in a few years.

Wait, that’s not it. Maybe it’s: Those who have allergies and those who will.

Well, maybe both of those are true. But what I’m aiming for is this: Those who love Willie Nelson and those who ought to start.

Willie was born in Abbott, north of Waco along I-35. He started writing hit songs in Houston — penning “Night Life” on his commute from Pasadena. The budding songwriter made a career in Nashville, and when his home burned down, he found his footing in Bandera. Even now, he’s often found toking, joking and gambling with pals in Maui, Hawaii.

But (at least when he’s not on the road, again and again) Austin is the spiritual home to Willie Nelson. He was always going to be a great songwriter. He created something more here. Are you feeling it, too?

Here are six places in and near Austin where you can gaze upon Willie now … or think about Willie then.

An 8-foot-tall bronze statue of Willie Nelson watches over West 2nd Street, also known as Willie Nelson Boulevard, at at ACL Live at the Moody Theater, the home of “Austin City Limits,” Monday September 12, 2016. The statue was created by Philadelphia artist Clete Shields, and given to the city by the nonprofit Capital Area Statues Inc. in a ceremony on April 20, 2012. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN (Jay Janner/Jay Janner)

1. The Willie Nelson statue, 310 W. 2nd St

The eight-foot tall statue was unveiled on April 20 (4/20!), 2012. Created by Philadelphia-based artist Clete Shields, the sculpture is near the home of Austin City Limits. The pilot of the long-running show featured Willie, of course.

PHOTOS: Willie Nelson through the years

Threadgill’s on Barton Springs in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, December 20, 2008. (Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman)

2. Threadgill’s World Headquarters, 301 W Riverside Dr

Plenty close physically and spiritually right on top of the site of the iconic Armadillo World Headquarters, you can belly up to the bar (or sit down for chicken-fried steak) and reflect that only the years separate you from that night in 1972 when Willie actually brought the hippies and rednecks together (and blazed his future path) in one epic August Armadillo show. Armadillo leader and Threadgill’s owner Eddie Wilson would be instrumental the next year in making the first Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic a success.

A 60-foot-by-20-foot mural of Willie Nelson looms over traffic on East Seventh Street at Neches Street on Monday, February 22, 2016. Austin artist Wiley Ross completed the mural Sunday after a week of painting. Rudy Duran is dwarfed by the mural while posing for a photo. “He is Texas, as far as I’m concerned,” said Duran, who came to look at the mural as soon as he heard about it. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN (Jay Janner/Jay Janner)

3. The giant Willie Nelson mural, East Seventh at Neches Street

Artist and musician Wiley Ross spent 80 hours over six days completing this 60-foot-by-20-foot mural, which would make an excellent backdrop for your next snapshot, selfie or official portrait.


4. Southpark Meadows, 9500 S IH 35 Frontage Rd 

You don’t have to eat at the Texas Roadhouse here, though Willie is a part-owner and there’s a small smattering of memorabilia. Instead, drive farther into the shopping center, toward the Hobby Lobby. In the parking lot here is where the stage used to be for the Southpark Meadows concert venue. Willie held three Fourth of July Picnics here: 1984, 2000 and, most notably, 1985. In addition to being the rainiest Picnic, ‘85 was one of the first appearances of The Highwaymen, the country supergroup Willie formed with friends Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson.

The “Willie Nelson For President” mural on STAG Provisions for Men was painted by Joe Swec from a drawing by Jacqui Oakley and a design by Erick Montes. Photographed Thursday July 14, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN (Jay Janner/Jay Janner)

5. The Willie for President mural, 1423 S Congress Ave

This smaller mural, on the side of the Stag Provisions for Men building is probably a little better for capturing snapshots with the Red-Headed Stranger. It also is very close to the former site of the Austin Opry House, the venue Willie opened in 1977. The Opry House was Willie’s often-chaotic, not-near-as-good answer to the Armadillo World Headquarters.

Susie Fowler introduces Tessy Lou and the Shotgun Stars members (from left) Bryan Paugh, Kenny Williams and Scott Martin during a concert Sunday at Poodie’s Roadhouse benefiting residents of Aransas Pass and the Rockport area who suffered from the effects of Hurricane Harvey. (SUE KNOLLE/Lake Travis View)

6. Poodie’s Hilltop Roadhouse, 22308 Hwy. 71 W., Spicewood

Named for and created by Willie Nelson stage manager Randall “Poodie” Locke, who died in 2009, this Hill Country bar was, for awhile, about as close as you could get to the idea that Willie might just stop by and pick a few songs. That may be more legend than reality these days, but when he’s not in Hawaii or on the road, Willie lives nearby. Strike up a conversation, you never know who will be telling the next Willie story — or who they might introduce you to.

Willie Nelson, “Last Man Standing” –

Thursday, May 10th, 2018
Robert Christgau


Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing (Legacy)

As Nelson made room for his 85th birthday, he also beefed up his wee catalogue by adding 11 new tunes written with whipper-snapping seventy-something Buddy Cannon. Their organizing concept is wisdom as opposed to age brags proper like “I don’t want to be the last man standing / But wait a minute maybe I do.” Sometimes the wisdom is rakish: “I gave you a ring then you gave me the finger,” “He might not know me ’cause I’m low class / But tell him I’m the one with his head up his ass,” “Bad breath is better than no breath at all.” Sometimes it’s paradoxical: “We were getting along just fine / Just me and me,” “So many people, it sure is lonely.” Sometimes it’s just deep: “It’s not something you get over / It’s just something you get through.”

Always it sounds like it started with an idea that popped out of his mouth or sidled in from his subconscious, and who knows, maybe the weed helped—with an eye on retirement income, he’s now marketing his own brand, Willie’s Reserve. Over impeccably relaxed session work, that wisdom is delivered with a clarity and resonance that would inspire substance abusers half his age to quit drinking if they had his brains or soul.


Robert Christgau

The self-proclaimed “Dean of American Rock Critics,” Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it. He was the music editor at the Village Voice for almost four decades where he created the trusted annual Pazz & Jop Poll. He was one of the first mainstream critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: “Melodic.” On top of his columns, he has published six books, including his 2015 autobiography, Going Into the City . He currently teaches at New York University. Every week, we publish Expert Witness, his long-running critical column. To find out more about his career, read his welcome post ; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.

Read article here.

New Willie Nelson album, “Last Man Standing”

Saturday, May 5th, 2018

Willie Nelson, Last Man Standing

Last Man Standing, which came out on April 27th, is Willie’s 67th studio release. It’s the sort of quiet standout that he seems to be able to put into the world seemingly without even trying too hard. (It’s one of two albums he’s announced for 2018, and will be one of five released in the past three years.) A song like “Something You Get Through” is a stone-cold classic of a Willie ballad on mortality, love, and survival, and even the quirky tracks (there’s one called “Bad Breath”) display the kind of wit and charm that makes Willie, well, Willie.

Willie Nelson, “Last Man Standing”

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

Willie Nelson, Last Man Standing
by Shawn Donohue

A few years ago false reports circulated online that Willie Nelson had died. The American icon reacted to these with his classic ease and wit and most surprisingly, it inspired him to craft his strongest album in years titled Still Not Dead. The follow-up, Last Man Standing is more of a mixed bag; however, its successful efforts manage to continue Nelson’s late-career writing/recording resurgence.

The 11 tracks were all co-written with Nelson’s longtime producer Buddy Cannon and run the scope of country sounds. Musically the pace is varied, the slower numbers hit the mark more often than the light rocking western joints which are starting to outpace the singer; while he has one of the quintessential American voices the 85-year-old Nelson is most certainly slowing down.

Opening with the title track, the infectious groove bubbles as Nelson sings his conflicted feelings about his current place in life, outliving many close friends and loved ones, sad to see them go, but selfishly glad he’s still around.  “Bad Breath” shows off Nelson’s laid- back wit and charm as a songwriter who has always kept humor close by as Mickey Raphael blows gorgeous harmonica lines; Nelsons backing band is right in step with the singer.

Never one to skip a weepy ballad Nelson here focuses his talents on “Something You Get Through” which (while sappy) does the job but even more successful is the slow western waltzing standout “I’ll Try To Do Better Next Time”.  “Me and You” is the in-it-until-the-end road song before “She Made My Day” brings back the humor of a relationship gone south. The best song on the album is the excellent “Heaven Is Closed” which finds Willie delivering his strongest vocal work in front of brilliant pedal steel guitar and lyrics that cause him to want to stick around a bit longer.

That said how many American legends are turning eighty-five, writing new songs and making records half as good as this? Not many, that’s for damn sure. With his glorious voice, charm and light-hearted take on life, Nelsons Last Man Standing makes sure the good outweighs the bad.


Willie Nelson sings Sinatra, “My Way”

Saturday, April 28th, 2018
by:  Chris Morris

It will likely come as no surprise that, 40 years after the release of his classic album of standards “Stardust,” Willie Nelson will be releasing another standards-filled new collection, this one devoted to the repertoire of Frank Sinatra.

“Sinatra and I were very good friends,” Nelson says by way of explanation. “He was my favorite singer, and he had written one time in an article that I was his favorite singer, so we kinda kicked it off good together, and we worked a few shows together, did a couple of albums together, and a video. He was just a buddy.”

Nelson expects that the Sinatra project, titled “My Way,” will be released on the heels of “Last Man Standing,” his new Legacy Recordings album, out today (April 27), just ahead of his 85th birthday. Buddy Cannon, who has produced most of the singer-songwriter’s recent records, recorded the horn- and string-laden backing tracks for the upcoming release in Nashville, with Nelson laying down vocals in his Austin studio.

When Nelson set about recording “Stardust” in late 1977, collections of standards were hardly a commonplace, especially for late-blooming country talents. In fact, during that era, even Sinatra had largely abandoned the standard book for compositions by the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Neil Diamond, Stevie Wonder and Jim Croce.

Nelson’s status had only recently changed from that of a gifted, hit-penning songwriter who didn’t sell many records. The one-two punch of 1975’s “Red Headed Stranger,” the product of what was inked as a one-off deal with Columbia, and the 1976 RCA anthology “Wanted! The Outlaws” had established his profile as outlaw country’s major act.

The success of “Stranger” had been followed up by a pair of relatively conservative LPs, one of them a tribute to ‘50s country star Lefty Frizzell. But Nelson, who was enjoying artistic carte blanche at Columbia as a result of his double-platinum hit, had an idea for a move into stylistic terra incognita.

His previous labels had shown little patience with their intransigent artist’s desire to record anything resembling a standard. Nelson had essayed a string-laden, Patsy Cline-like interpretation of the 1929 pop chestnut “Am I Blue” at Liberty in 1963. During a long, unproductive stay at RCA, he’d slip the occasional oddball number in among his own compositions and various country covers, such as “Don’t Fence Me In,” Cole Porter’s “cowboy song” (1964) and Frank Loesser’s “Have I Stayed Away Too Long” (1966), also essayed by Tex Ritter and Charlie Rich.

He says, “The idea was, a good song will always be good, and I played these songs all my life, practically – ‘Stardust,’ ‘Moonlight in Vermont.’ All those songs my sister [pianist and longtime accompanist Bobbie] and I used to sit around the house and play when we were growing up in Texas. It wasn’t a big stretch for me to do these songs.”

In 1977, Nelson was spending a good deal of time in Los Angeles, scoping out the movie business. (His breakthrough acting roles would come in 1979’s “The Electric Horseman” and 1980’s “Honeysuckle Rose.”) But his long-contemplated standards project would get a liftoff from one of his Malibu neighbors: Booker T. Jones, the former keyboardist of Booker T. & the MG’s, the potent instrumental combo and house band of Memphis’ Stax Records.

“Actually,” Nelson recalls, “we wound up living in the same apartment building in L.A. He was above me a couple of stories. We hung out together, and we started talking about making records. It was just kind of a natural thing to do. We wanted to do some great standards, and he’s an incredible musician, arranger, producer. So me and Booker just kind of went to work.

“There were a lot of [the songs] I knew I wanted to record. There were a few he wanted to introduce and let me see if I wanted to do ‘em. It didn’t take long to come up with 12 or 15 songs.”

Ultimately, 10 tracks were selected from tunes recorded at Brian Ahern’s home, employing the producer-engineer’s Enactron Truck mobile studio. They included Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” originally an instrumental and later augmented with lyrics by Mitchell Parrish, Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind,” Kurt Weill’s “September Song,” Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and George and Ira Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

Columbia’s country division had meager expectations for Nelson’s lean, subdued collection of classic songs, which didn’t sit comfortably with the outlaw image formulated on “Red Headed Stranger.” So the execs were not holding their breath for the first sales reports after “Stardust” was issued in April 1978.

And then, suddenly, the label had a smash hit on its hands – one that proved to be the bestselling album of Willie Nelson’s recording career. The surpassing warmth and sensitivity of his interpretive singing won him legions of new fans, many of whom may have been only vaguely aware of his country recordings.

“Stardust” spawned two No. 1 country singles, “Georgia On My Mind” and a stunning minor-key interpretation of “Blue Skies,” and the No. 3 entry “All of Me.” The album spent a staggering 117 weeks on the pop albums chart, peaking at No. 30, and reached the top of the country LPs chart. In 1979, Nelson’s “Georgia” collected a Grammy Award as best male country vocal performance.

Nelson has frequently returned to the “deep well” he has drawn from so successfully and expressively. Among his many other excursions into standard terrain, he cites as his own personal favorites “Without a Song,” the 1983 sequel-of-sorts to “Stardust” that reunited him with producer Jones, and “American Classic,” a jazz-based set produced by Tommy LiPuma featuring the arrangements of Crusaders keyboardist Joe Sample.

The possibilities of the Great American Songbook – which will play out again on “My Way” – are endless, Nelson says: “‘Stardust’ was a good album. It had all those standards in it, but there’s also hundreds more of those standards that can be recorded.”

One more saturday night for Willie Nelson

Saturday, April 28th, 2018

by:  Stavros Damos
by: Chris Richards

LAS VEGAS — Another Saturday night on Earth. How is this one different?

“Honestly, nothing is distinct after a while,” Willie Nelson confesses. He’s talking about life on the road at 81, when wisdom makes the totality of life feel intensely connected to the present — but also when age makes the details feel slippery.

He’s come to Las Vegas for his seventh gig of the new year. After tonight, roughly a hundred more to go. And if they all blend together, that’s okay, as long as he’s learning more than he’s forgetting, which he thinks he is, which is all that really matters.

When most veteran musicians tour this hard toward the sunset, they’re usually fattening their fortunes, paying down their debts, polishing their legacies, nourishing their egos or simply keeping their loyal employees employed. For Nelson, the road seems more like a spiritual path — an asphalt Mobius strip, the long way to enlightenment or both.

His buddy Kinky Friedman proudly calls him “the Hillbilly Dalai Lama.” His most devout fans think of him as a messenger, or even a manifestation, of God. Sitting on his tour bus before the show, salt-and-cinnamon braids dangling to his belly, Nelson radiates a serene warmth when he says that he embraces these responsibilities without much fuss.

“It’s not a responsibility that’s just mine,” he says. “It’s everybody’s out there. They have the obligation to set an example. ‘Do unto others.’ The old Golden Rule. It’s an easy one to follow. Sometimes.”

There were times when he didn’t, of course. He was once a hot-tempered songwriting ace prone to burning bridges before learning that burning marijuana could calm his screeching mind. But the road from turbulence to tranquility was long and formidable. As a kid, he couldn’t see past 21. At 21, he swore he’d be dead by 40. “Here I am at 81, and everything is cool,” Nelson says.

And here he is in Vegas, for a gig like any other, only maybe not. In many ways, Las Vegas is a luminescent fantasyland designed to provide its visitors with an opportunity to escape their own heads. A Willie Nelson concert won’t allow that. Even when they’re light, Nelson’s songs pull us deeper into ourselves, with Nelson singing about the weight of yesterday and the uncertainty of tomorrow with the easiness of right now. His songs are essentially about time, which makes them about life, which makes them about everything. Older listeners remember. Younger listeners imagine. There’s a lot going on.

“It’s been that way as long as I can remember,” Nelson says of his multi-generational flock. “When you go to church, it’s young and old. The audience, for me, is very similar to a congregation. It’s all ages out there.”

Tonight, plenty of congregants bought their tickets simply to genuflect, get drunk and shout out the words to “On the Road Again.” But many younger fans in the room quietly acknowledge that they’ve made this pilgrimage with bittersweet intentions. They’re here to see Nelson before he leaves this plane, seemingly unaware that their presence is exactly what keeps that from happening.

Born and raised in a peaceful fleck of Texas called Abbott, Nelson learned from his grandmother that, in addition to keeping us alive, the human breath is what carries a song. So he started singing from his diaphragm and picked up the rest from the voices wafting out of his radio. Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams. He especially loved listening to the way Frank Sinatra breathed.

As with Sinatra, so much of Nelson’s magnetism originates in the intimacy of his vocal phrasing. Vocally, he can saunter ahead of the beat, then stumble behind it, somersaulting through his lines, always landing on his feet. And all of this magic still reveals itself in the length of a breath.

To keep fit, Nelson currently rides a bicycle and plays a little golf, but he vows that exhaling music from a stage is the ultimate form of exercise. And while he says he doesn’t meditate, his explanation of why he doesn’t certainly sounds like meditation: “To think about my breathing would defeat the purpose. The object is not to think.”

The other pillars of his spirituality remain simple and sturdy. The Lord’s Prayer still comes in handy when he needs his brain to go blank. And his long-standing belief in reincarnation grows stronger each year. “I think everything that’s happened [in my life] enhances the idea,” he says. “Once you invite that idea in and start kicking it around, you see that that’s the only way it could be.”

Ask Nelson heftier questions about life, death and the great beyond, and he begins speaking in Zen zingers. At first, it seems like he’s dodging. But catch up to him, and you’ll realize he’s telling big truths through little jokes.

What goes through his mind when he walks onstage? “Try not to trip over a wire.”

Do his fans truly know him? “I think they think they do.”

Does he have a relationship with God today? “Well, how you doin’?”

That last reply seems to materialize in a moment of octogenarian fog, but in actuality, Nelson is 10 steps ahead: He believes that God speaks through all of us. His sense of humor and his spirituality are inextricable. Life is a joke. The funniest one we’ll ever know.

And while his cosmic wit explains Nelson’s eminence as a troubadour-guru, it says even more about his skill as a country songwriter. Every lyricist on Music Row aspires to think this elegantly, finding ways to pack the universe into pithy, coherent, pleasingly rhythmic bundles that report on the finer details of the human condition in plain English. The words also have to rhyme, and it helps if they’re hilarious or devastating.

In Vegas, Nelson’s set list is teeming with evergreen punch lines, hang-ups and jabs: the misadventures of “Me and Paul,” the delirious regret of “Crazy,” the dagger-twist at the end of “Funny How Time Slips Away.” But the most rousing singalong comes during “Roll Me Up,” a newer ditty that confronts the imminence of death with a weed joke.

Chopping away at his instrument — a famously loyal guitar named Trigger whose soundboard bears a gaping second hole, as if it took a shotgun slug for its owner — Nelson looks pleased as he sings the hook: “I didn’t come here and I ain’t leavin’?/ So don’t sit around and cry?/ Just roll me up and smoke me when I die.”

Visualizing the aftermath of Nelson’s death (breathing him in, breathing him out) should not be this fun, this funny, this comforting or this weirdly poetic — which is the upside-down brilliance of it all. It’s by far his most generous and perverse gesture of the night.

But singing backup is Nelson’s daughter Amy, whose eyes flash with discomfort each time the refrain comes around. Backstage, she admits that it’s hard for her to sing those words. “I don’t want to affirm anything like that,” she says. “So when we sing that song, in my head, I’ll look at him and think, ‘Nope!’?”

Sure, he thinks there are more songs for him to write. Nelson describes the creative moment as a vibration he catches in the breeze, a friendly signal from someplace else. Being on the road might expose him to more transmissions. Sometimes, they come in clear. Other times, he just hears static.

“It either happens or it doesn’t,” Nelson says of the process. “You can’t push it or rush it. I don’t really think about what it takes to write a song. I really don’t. But if I get a good idea, I try to write it down as quickly as possible. And I have an iPhone now, and it’s easier to get in there and leave some notes for myself.”

He’s always written his lyrics first, confident that good melodies are more plentiful than good words and easier to locate, too. As for cutting his songs, he’s quick. He released two fine albums last year, and when he presses a button on the tour-bus stereo, out jumps a zesty new duet he recorded with Merle Haggard a few weeks ago.

It’s from a forthcoming double-tribute album honoring proto-country star Jimmie Rodgers and Django Reinhardt, the French jazz maestro whose guitar-playing has mesmerized Nelson for decades. In fact, Nelson has been taking guitar lessons of late, trying to decode how Reinhardt’s fingertips once dashed across the fretboard. “You can never learn it all,” he says.

Haggard, 77, might be Nelson’s closest peer in that he’s a legendary country-music agitator who continues to tour relentlessly, even after an excruciating lung surgery in 2008. Haggard has characterized life on the road as a compulsion, an addiction, a disease, maybe even a 50-year mistake.

But for Nelson, touring into his 80s is something else entirely. Somehow, his journey generates more energy than it siphons away.

So this great honky-tonk slog, this never-ending odyssey that requires an increasingly fragile body to breathe melody 100 nights a year — this is actually the thing that keeps him alive?

“Oh yeah,” he says with a firm nod. Then he smiles. The idea makes him feel either deeply contented, a little frightened or nothing at all.

Willie Nelson not afraid to play in Belfast

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Thanks, Phil Weisman, for sending along this news clipping.

Willie Nelson was upset that people said he was afraid to perform in Northern Ireland, so he promptly rescheduled a show for Belfast.

“I’m not afraid to play anywhere,” Nelson said after a round of golf in Austin, Texas.  “Were ready for Belfast  It’s just another beer joint.  “It’ll be a piece of cake.”

Nelson had been scheduled to play Belfast Tuesday but the date was canceled without his knowledge.  The Irish were angered as word spread that he was concerned about his safety after the latest sectarian violence.

“You can call me a lot of things but a wimp isn’t one of them,” said Nelson.

“I read the reports that said the cancellation ahd gotten the ‘Irish’ up in people over there.  When I found out what happened, it got my Irish up, too.”

Willie Nelson, “Last Man Standing” (review)

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

for 4-30-18: Willie Nelson wrote every song on his new album “Last Man Standing” with producer Buddy Cannon. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman
3/15/2018 Suzanne Cordeiro/ For American-Statesman /Willie Nelson performs at Luck Reunion, an all day music festival held in Spicewood, Texas.
by:  Peter Blacksgtock

Willie Nelson, “Last Man Standing” (Legacy).

Let’s pause for a moment to recognize what this is: At 85, the age he turns on Sunday, Willie Nelson has released an album of entirely new original material. This is almost certainly unprecedented in the history of recorded music.

Willie’s good friend Ray Price recorded his final album at age 87, but he didn’t write any of the songs. (Willie wrote one of them, “It Always Will Be.”) The closest comparison may be Pete Seeger’s “At 89,” which won him a traditional folk Grammy in 2009 — but that was a mix of originals, traditional tunes and spoken-word passages. All 11 tracks on “Last Man Standing” were written by Nelson and his longtime producer Buddy Cannon. It’s remarkable enough that Nelson has continued to tour and record regularly well into his 80s, but his recent increased songwriting activity, spurred largely by Cannon’s input and support, is something rarely if ever witnessed before.

“Last Man Standing” has plenty of high points, starting with the title track, which leads off the record and sets the tone. Like much of what Nelson has written with Cannon, this one’s playful even as it takes on sobering truths. The loss of close compadres such as Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard leaves Nelson not wanting to be the last man standing, until he ponders the alternative and reconsiders: “But wait a minute, maybe I do.” And where would he go, anyway? “Heaven is closed and Hell’s overcrowded,” he declares on “Heaven Is Closed,” before deciding, “I think I’ll just stay where I am.” He stares down fate with a smile again on “Bad Breath,” which he reminds “is better than no breath at all.”

There’s classic Willie wisdom here too. “Don’t Tell Noah” (“about the flood”) humorously advises folks against stating the obvious to those who already know, inevitably pointing the arrow home: “Don’t tell me that I’ve lost my mind, ’cause I’ve been crazy all the time.” In “She Made My Day,” he cautions against the consequences — “but it ruined my life” — yet he’s clearly playing it for a laugh, not sympathy. Best of all is “Something You Get Over,” a beautiful ballad that’s arguably the record’s best musical moment. Willie turns serious here, deeply lamenting a lost love yet persevering: “It’s not something you get over, but it’s something you get through.”

What’s missing is the outside material so perfectly presented on “God’s Problem Child.” I’d trade another gem like Willie’s rendition of Sonny Throckmorton’s “Butterfly” for Nelson/Cannon originals such as “Ready to Roar” and I Ain’t Got Nothin’,” which are good for dancing but by-the-numbers, or “Me and You,” which is no match for “Me and Paul.”

And then you stop and think, again: This guy just released an entire album of new original songs midway through his ninth decade on the planet. We should all be so fortunate to experience not just extended longevity, but continued creativity. In the long run, Willie may not end up being the last man standing — but on second thought, maybe he will.

Read entire article, see more photos here.

“Last Man Standing” — “One of Willie Nelson’s most joyous, insightful and understated sets”

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Willie Nelson, Last Man Standing
by:  Hal Horowitz

Willie Nelson
Last Man Standing
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

“Ain’t it funny, how time slips away,” wrote Willie Nelson in 1960 when he was in his late 20s. Now at 85, he’s still singing about time, albeit from a slightly different perspective. “One thing I’ve learned about running the road/ Is forever don’t apply to life,” he intones on this album’s title track. It’s just one of the instances on this 11-song set of new originals where Nelson faces up to the inevitable with honesty, humility and a refreshing dose of humor.

That lighter self-deprecating attitude was also apparent on 2016’s God’s Problem Child, when he sang “Don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play,” on “Still Not Dead.” It appears here both lyrically (“… bad breath is better than no breath at all”) and in the generally easygoing, upbeat musical approach. Nelson’s notorious eclectic palette remains in full flower on this, his 73rd studio album; a bit of blues, jaunty Texas swing (“Ready To Roar”), Chuck Berry-styled rocking (“Don’t Tell Noah”), good time honky-tonk (“I Ain’t Got Nothin’”), and swampy broken-hearted ballads (“Very Far To Crawl”), combined with Nelson’s distinctive, timeless, nasal drawl and jazz-inflected phrasing.

Willie’s in remarkable voice throughout. Like his peer Loretta Lynn, his vocals are clear, confident and sound decades younger than his birth certificate indicates. Producer Buddy Cannon, who co-wrote the tunes, keeps the sound full and clean, yet open. He perfectly balances twang, strum and crackling rhythms that feel as frisky as Nelson sounds on songs like “She Made My Day,” where he wittily laments, “She made my day, but it ruined my life.”

Last Man Standing isn’t just a terrific album made by a living legend with nothing left to prove; it’s one of the most joyous, insightful and understated sets from Willie Nelson, a guy who acts like his best years are still ahead and refuses to slow down now. 

NPR: First Listen, Willie Nelson, “Last Man Standing”

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

Willie Nelson, Last Man Standing
by:  Ann Powers

Listen to the album:  First Listen: Willie Nelson, ‘Last Man Standing’

A few months ago, social media trend spotters got excited for a moment about the fact that we’re all going to die. The occasion was the launch of a new app, WeCroak, that follows the Buddhist practice of frequently contemplating mortality by sending notifications about that very subject to users five times a day. WeCroak is cute, a kind of mashup of Siddhartha and Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies. But music lovers don’t need it. We have Willie Nelson, the best life coach anyone could ask for, who at 84 has made it his business to help all of us not only contemplate the Grim Reaper but grab that bony elbow and have a dance.

The title of Last Man Standing telegraphs its main theme, but Nelson’s been comfortably marking his place on life’s timeline over several albums now, ever since he started writing songs in earnest again. (Don’t be surprised if he and producer Buddy Cannon, who cowrote all of Last Man‘s 11 tracks, come up with an app of their own one day – since Nelson lives mostly in Hawaii and Cannon’s in Nashville, the pair collaborates mostly by text.) God’s Problem Child, which came out last year, favored poignancy over humor, though both were pleasant. Last Man Standing flips that formula, with most tracks stressing good cheer even in the face of hard times.

The title track mourns the loss of friends like Merle Haggard and Ray Price, but to a boogie woogie soundtrack. “Bad Breath” raises a beer bottle to halitosis (proof that the lungs are still working) and the honky tonk blues “Heaven Is Closed” personifies the two afterlife destinations as lovers who get confused in an old man’s. These songs aren’t sunny; loneliness and grief enter into most Nelson lyrics now. But like the legendary Buddhist monk who laughed even after dying because laughter is always young and fresh, Nelson embraces the cosmic joke while lighting one up for the pain that still teaches him.

Last Man Standing ranges in style from Western Swing to pensive ballads, with plenty of old friends from Nelson’s past recordings and touring bands in the studio, including Alison Krauss kicking up dust on fiddle. Buddy Cannon’s production is clean and foregrounds Nelson’s still utterly lucid, jazz-influenced singing. Some of the best cuts are the ballads, especially the soulful “Something You Get Through,” which sounds like a deep cut from one of Aretha Franklin’s great early 1970s sides. “It’s not ours to be taken,” Nelson sings of this life, releasing each word like a smoke ring as Mickey Raphael’s harmonica matches his syllables. “It’s just a thing we get to do.” Now that is an insight worth sending as a notification.

Willie Nelson, “Last Man Standing”

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018



Willie Nelson, “Last Man Standing” — the outlaw king’s still got it

Sunday, April 15th, 2018
by:  Neil Spencer

To celebrate his 85th birthday, Willie Nelson releases an album of 11 original songs… there are very few pop luminaries of whom one could write that sentence, perhaps only country’s outlaw king. Nelson has responded to his advancing years by being ever more prolific, spraying out albums by favourite composers, albums of archive material (Willie’s Stash), and albums of new songs, plus countless guest appearances.

This 73rd studio album stands out, a winning mixture of confessionals, nostalgia and humour, co-written with producer Buddy Cannon. .  You can rely on Willie to come up with defiant, wisdom-of-age pieces such as Something You Get Through and Bad Breath (“is better than no breath at all”), but there’s also sly wit in the New Orleans shuffle of the title track (“I don’t want to be the last man standing/ Oh wait a minute, maybe I do…”) and Don’t Tell Noah, where Nelson admits he’s “been crazy all the time”.

Nelson and Cannon mix up the musical styles, with a brace of cuts that hark back to the ballroom Western Swing of Nelson’s youth. Willie rattles off his lines with trademark insouciance, as much spoken as sung, and still plays an acoustic guitar with jazzy panache. What a legend.

Check your tickets for Willie Nelson & Family Show in Dubuque tonight (some fake ones circulating)

Friday, April 13th, 2018

DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) – Police are warning to check your tickets if you’re planning to go to the Willie Nelson concert in Dubuque Friday night.

Police say a suspect was caught selling fake ticket’s to the Willie Nelson concert at the Five Flags Center. Police say it was a private sale in an online marketplace.

Anyone suspecting they may have a fake ticket should contact the company where they bought the ticket, like a stubhub or other ticket vendor.


Willie Nelson & Family in Des Moines (4/11/2018)

Friday, April 13th, 2018

photo:   Zach Boyden-Holmes

Read article, see more photos here.
by:  Matthew Leimkuehler

Shotgun Willie Nelson and his band of gypsies rolled into downtown Des Moines on Wednesday for a showing of classic outlaw country.

A total 5,022 traveled to Wells Fargo Arena for a night with the Red Headed Stranger, his first time performing at Iowa’s largest indoor venue. Fans saw Nelson perform for 75 minutes, songs highlighting his celebrated career and the career of iconic country counterparts.

Part of the “Willie Nelson and Family” tour, it marked Nelson’s first appearance in the region since headlining Hinterland Music Festival in August 2016. The show comes in support of his latest album, “Last Man Standing,” which drops April 27.

photo:   Zach Boyden-Holmes

“Well,  I woke up …”

The Willie songs: Armed with Trigger, his beaten and beloved guitar, Nelson took the stage to a standing ovation, leading the band into a rendition of “Whiskey River.”

He gave the crowd “On the Road Again” and “Crazy” and “Always On My Mind,” but it was the new songs, the self-aware songs about Nelson’s age, like 2017’s “Still Not Dead” and 2012’s “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die,” that energized the crowd. The Kennedy Center honoree turns 85 later this month.

Nelson played 20-plus songs, filling the set with 1990s number “Still Is Still Movin’,” Toby Keith collaboration “Beer For My Horses,” 1980’s “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground” and long-performed “Funny How Time Slips Away.”