Last of the Breed Album (Review)

Some folks are already calling for an encoreThe thinking here seems to be that if two classic voices together are better than one, three must be triple the fun. And that is indeed the case — at times — on this two-CD summit meeting of three of country music’s most venerated stars, who’ve placed a combined 338 records on the country singles chart and logged nearly as much collective time on the planet as the Constitution.

The thinking here seems to be that if two classic voices together are better than one, three must be triple the fun. And that is indeed the case — at times — on this two-CD summit meeting of three of country music’s most venerated stars, who’ve placed a combined 338 records on the country singles chart and logged nearly as much collective time on the planet as the Constitution.A duet outing can offer disparate singers the opportunity to contrast and blend their way to a transcendent new level, but the reality of finding space in 22 songs for each of three voices often becomes a game of “Whose Turn Is It Anyway.”  As much fun as the members of this trio probably had trading verses on the country standards that make up about half this set (in stores Tuesday), those tunes — “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine,” “Mom and Dad’s Waltz,” “Heartaches by the Number,” “I Love You Because,” etc. — have been recorded so frequently it’s well nigh impossible to inject much freshness, short of Jack White-style radical reinvention. But that’s not the aim here: Veteran producer Fred Foster elicits top-notch playing out of a first-rate studio band, plus the Jordanaires, in instrumental and vocal arrangements that are as tastefully efficient as they are respectful to country tradition.

The sheer humility Nelson, Haggard and Price bring to Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me” overcomes the burden of familiarity, but revelations largely reside in the more obscure numbers: Cindy Walker’s heartbreaking “Going Away Party,” Floyd Tillman’s existentially painful “Some Other World” and a couple of recent-vintage Nelson and Haggard compositions.

Indeed, the wizened gravity they bring to Nelson’s acquiescent “Back to Earth” and Haggard’s wistfully romantic “If I Ever Get Lucky” raises the question of “What if?” as in, “What if they’d done a full session of material by these two singers who also happen to be two of country’s greatest songwriters? Or boiled this one down to a single album of the less tried-and-true songs?” Is it too much to hope for “Last of the Breed — The Afterlife”?

Randy Lewis
www.calendarlive.com

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