[14 October 2007]
You cannot fully confirm whether guys like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price are the last of their breed until you put them up next to, say, Shania Twain. Whereas Twain is sometimes more aerobics instructor than country singer, these three graying men are the true, diehard troubadours. This concert DVD will surely bless your little heart if you happen to be the last of another breed: the traditional country music fan.
There’s a ton of music on this disc, too. A whole 35 songs! The show begins with crooner Ray Price. Dressed in suit and tie, and singing with eyes just as tired as his songs are sad, Price is one class act. It doesn’t matter if his songs are old (“San Antonio Rose”) or relatively new (“Help Me Make It Through The Night”), nobody pours out bitter country whiskey better than Price.
Although the DVD’s marquee doesn’t list it, this trio’s backing band is the amazing Asleep At The Wheel. And between Price and Merle Haggard’s sets, Ray Benson and the boys inject a little swing into the show with “Route 66” and “Miles and Miles of Texas”. Asleep At The Wheel is the last of an even smaller breed, Western swing stylists, but thank goodness they’re keeping this toe-tapping musical genre’s flame alive.
Merle Haggard begins his eight-song solo set by continuing the Western swing vibe with “Take Me Back To Tulsa”. He goes on to include many of his best songs, including “Silver Wings”, “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink”, “Are The Good Times Really Over For Good?”, “Big City” and “Sing Me Back Home”. The Hag is next joined by one of his favorite duet partners, Willie Nelson, for “Pancho and Lefty”, “Reasons To Quit”, “Ramblin’ Fever”, and a final pairing on the new balled “Back To Earth”. “Pancho and Lefty”, the Townes Van Zant song, is timeless. It’s the story of a bad guy that the law respected too much to kill even when they had the chance, which resonates every time it’s sung, especially by skilled storytellers like Haggard and Nelson.
Before Nelson digs into a set of his own material, his friend Freddy Powers sings “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter”. Nelson then throws a few ‘must sings’ into his set, including “On The Road Again” and “Always on My Mind”. But he also inserts a couple funny new songs. One called “Superman” admits that he’s not nearly as strong and seemingly omniscient as he used to be. He follows this up with “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore”. Because Nelson concerts can be extremely predictable, it is always a big treat to hear a few fresh songs.
This package also includes an “extra” interview with Nelson, Haggard, and Price in the back of Willie’s bus, conducted by Benson. There’s also a personally guided tour of Willie’s bus by the man himself as well as a photo gallery section.
It’s convenient to view these three performers as country music legends. But, especially in the cases of Nelson and Haggard, these are more accurately American music icons. You might be surprised at just how many rock players look up to Haggard. And Nelson has sung duets with almost every genre representative imaginable. This DVD presents these significant musical players in all their understated glory. Unlike many hip-hop stars of today, who are as schooled in self-promotion as they are adept at beats and rhymes, Price, Haggard, and Nelson always appear humbled and honored by the opportunity to present their songs. But they have every right to brag about themselves, if they ever chose to do so. They just don’t.
Willie Nelson may have had the big it with “On The Road Again”, but all three primary participants share this road warrior’s tale. I imagine they’ll tour until they die; they just don’t know any other life. But fortunately, this package captures this trio on one of the better stops along this seemingly endless journey.