Album reviews: Willie Nelson and Love
New album: Last Man Standing
Artist: Willie Nelson
Label: Sony Legacy
Whenever they carve out the country music Mt. Rushmore, Willie Nelson's face will most likely rest somewhere between those Hank Williams Sr. and Merle Haggard. Miraculously, he's still with us and making great albums.
Now well into his eighties, Nelson hasn't been bashful about writing songs that deal with mortality. You'd think his advancing years would cause him to veer towards the morbid on Last Man Standing, but he and producer Buddy Cannon have composed some of the funniest songs in Nelson's discography. For instance, take the song "Bad Breath":
Don't ever complain about nothin'
Before we can walk, we all gotta crawl
Halitosis is a word I never could spell
But bad breath is better than no breath at all
The sound throughout the album is crisp and free of the pop-country goo that's prevalent these days. It's not that Nelson's sound is retro; it's evergreen. Why cover a steak in Heinz 57 if it's a perfect piece of beef?
"Ready To Roar" is a classic Texas shuffle tune in the tradition of Bob Wills. Featuring a jaunty steel guitar line and a spirited vocal from Nelson, "Ready To Roar" is the perfect anthem for a country gentleman looking for a weekend of entertainment.
There's a whiff of remorse on "I'll Try To Do Better Next Time", but it's a bittersweet balancing of accounts that never sends a tear into anyone's beer. If anyone's life epitomizes the overused phrase "it is what it is", it would be Willie's.
Willie Nelson has somehow managed to forge a multi-decade career as an artist in a world of entertainers. He should be cherished while he's still with us, and Last Man Standing proves he still has plenty in the tank.
Classic album: Forever Changes
The band Love emanated from the same Los Angeles club scene that produced The Doors in the mid to late 1960s. In fact, Love was the band The Doors idolized and to a lesser extent modeled themselves after.
Led by singer/songwriter Arthur Lee, Love's sound ran the gamut from gentle psychedelia to blistering garage rock. The decision to add strings to this fascinating collection of songs gave them a beautiful but eerie quality that's difficult to describe. So much has been made of the string parts that to this day the band and the producer argue over whose decision it was to add them in the first place.
By the time the band entered the studio to record their third album Forever Changes in 1967, they were falling apart due to drug use. To compound their situation, Arthur Lee was a peculiar character on a good day and a difficult one on others. The band was in such sad shape that Lee and producer Bruce Botnick brought in session musicians to shock them into shape.
Consisting mostly of Lee compositions, the album also featured excellent contributions from guitarist/vocalist Bryan Maclean in the form of "Along Again Or" and "Old Man". On previous albums, Maclean's sunnier songs such as the classic "Orange Skies" were at odds with Lee's more skewed point of view. In truth, Maclean's contributions were a great counterpoint to Lee's darker vision. Also, "Alone Again Or" was a bit of a hit single.
Lee's songs for Forever Changes may or may not have been about the sad shape the band was in, but the sentiments in those songs echoed what would soon happen to the peace and love generation. The movement produced some great art, but the human toll was starting to mount. A vast teenage wasteland would soon be littered with drug casualties, all the while running parallel with the Vietnam War.
If anything, "Forever Changes" is an elegy for the youth movement of the 1960s written while it was still active. "Bummer In the Summer" finds Lee tossing off a relationship while the air was allegedly filled with love. "A House Is Not A Motel" is a depiction of war described by someone too stoned to properly emote.
None of these tunes be mistaken for cheerful, but they are among the greatest rock music ever recorded.