PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ray Price: Last of the Breed Volume 1

Yes, that’s right. Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price offer the somnolent styles of yesterday and today for your enjoyment.


Ray Price

Last of the Breed Volume 1

Display Artist: Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ray Price
Label: Mercury
US Release Date: 2007-03-20
UK Release Date: 2007-03-19
Amazon
iTunes

Has the news been depressing you lately? Everywhere you look things seem dark. The wars abroad grow deadlier. New political scandals continually emerge. Environmental degradation and global warming are a fact of life. Need to relax? Well, let me recommend a good old fashioned remedy: easy listening, country music made by the masters. Yes, that’s right. Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price offer the somnolent styles of yesterday and today for your enjoyment.

This is soft classic country music made with no hard edges that hails from a post-World War II tradition that says the bombs may drop at any minute. We need a strong shot of normalcy and family values to hide behind. Our best defense is to insulate ourselves in thick layers of mellow, paste a pleasant smile on our faces and pretend there is nothing wrong. Even when love has gone bad, it’s understood that bad love has its own bittersweet pleasures.

Don’t misunderstand. These songs offer solace in hard times and heaven knows we can use them. Nelson, Haggard and Price have chosen a smooth selection of mostly classic tunes from their youth and earnestly present them in simple and traditional styles. Legendary countrypolitan producer Fred Foster (Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton) employs the traditional playing of former Texas Playboy fiddler Johnny Gimble and legendary Nashville steel guitarist Buddy Emmons, and then adds the sweet vocals of The Jordanaires, to provide a comfy background upon which the three lead singers take turns offering up layers of effortless vocals and fluffy harmonies. This works well on light fare like Floyd Tillman’s “I’ll Keep on Loving You” and Lefty Frizzell’s “Mom and Dad’s Waltz". The emotions expressed are just deep enough below the surface (“I’d fight the wars/ I’d do the chores” Nelson sweetly sings to his parents) to inform the listener that there is more going on than the mere words are saying: i.e. that is, in a case like the latter -- it may be the end of the world, but I love you Ma and Pa.

The heavier songs don’t work as well for that very reason, especially the religious ones like Haggard’s “Sweet Jesus” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me Lord” -- despite Kristofferson himself singing back up vocals. While some may believe a simple faith is a good thing, it comes off as insincere when not sung with a strong passion. This may be a flaw of the genre. White gospel rarely works as successfully as black gospel (no matter what the color of the performer).

These three vocalists are old men. Perhaps taking it easy allows them to sing without hurting their vocal chords, The album was put together as a document for which the trio could go out together and tour. Individually, they each sound good. Nelson still injects his music with a playfulness that lets you know he’s smiling as he’s singing. Haggard lets the blues sounds curdle in his throat before bringing them to the surface as if he’s reflecting on what his saying before letting it out. Price, the oldest of the bunch, romantically croons in a melancholy way that bespeaks a life singing in honky tonks before they were considered cool by the masses. The trio’s harmonies reveal their different palettes, but also show they are all singing in pastels. No one boldly stands out above the rest, but instead they allow their voices to blend together.

Nelson, Haggard, and Price may truly be among the last of their breed (Haggard, at 70 years of age is the youngest man here). They do a fine job of creating a gentle album to help one rest and relax. The only thing is that all three singers have reputations as hell raisers, although to be fair, each one has also made several acclaimed albums of softer music. Still, it’s a shame they are not covering the rough and rowdy side of country here. Maybe that will happen on the next disc in the set. This double CD 22-track set is labeled “Volume 1” and as such promises a sequel. Let’s hope the next one is a wilder ride.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.