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

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.

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