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Three Guys Named Willie, Merle and Ray


Willie Nelson is 74 years old. Fellow country music legend Ray Price is 81. Merle Haggard is a mere 70. The three of them have gotten together and collaborated on a new double-CD called the "Last of the Breed."

And our music critic, Robert Christgau, thinks it's pretty fresh.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERT CHRISTGAU: Even with Johnny Cash in the grave, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Ray Price aren't the last of their breed. There are plenty of old coots targeting the downloading impaired with new country albums. But none of these albums approached the savvy or spirit of this session.

(Soundbite of song, "My Mary")

Mr. MERLE HAGGARD (Country Musician): (Singing) Scrolling down on memory lane.

CHRISTGAU: Sometimes our three legends are domesticated as on the two Bob Wills' oldies that opened the set. Here's how Merle Haggard establishes the theme on "My Mary."

(Soundbite of song, "My Mary")

Mr. HAGGARD: (Singing) I can always see my sweetheart just as she used to be. Waiting for someone at the garden gate. I know that someone is me. Big brown eyes and pearly hair and you'd tell that's Mary.

CHRISTGAU: A neglected song of romantic devotion brought back to life. Other times though, the three buddies are honky-tonk rounders. Listen to Nelson and Price on a Hank Williams song their label is named after - "Lost Highway."

(Soundbite of song, "Lost Highway")

Mr. WILLIE NELSON (Country Musician): (Singing) Just another guy on the lost highway.

Mr. RAY PRICE (Country Musician): (Singing) Just a deck of cards and a jug of wine. And a woman's lies makes a life like mine. O the day we met, I went astray. I started rolling down…

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) Rolling down…

Mr. PRICE and Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) …that lost highway.

CHRISTGAU: The album's savvy is a given. Willie and Merle are still sound physically but they proved long ago they could phrase with a subtly seldom approached this side of Al Green. Ray Price hasn't had his big booming chops for decades, even though he still tours with a string section. He's less prominent here.

(Soundbite of song, "Why Me")

Mr. PRICE: (Singing) What have I ever done…

CHRISTGAU: And when he does sing, he picks up on the younger guys casual example. But the secret of the session's spirit is more elusive. It's not just old timers having a good time as they trade leads and harmonize. They sound serious as well. They sound committed.

(Soundbite of song, "Why Me")

Mr. PRICE: (Singing) Tell me Lord what did I ever do that was worth loving you or the kindness you've shown.

Mr. PRICE and Unidentified Group #2: (Singing) Lord help me Jesus I've wasted…

CHRISTGAU: The two religious songs here define a tone of solemnity without sanctimony. The seniors come across us as believers who can feel the end approaching. But the pair of songs in which these three old guys praised parents we assumed have been gone a long time are just as rich and uncompromised. I love how plainly Willie Nelson delivers the key verse of Lefty Frizzel's "Mom and Dad's Waltz" - I'd fight in wars. Do all the chores for my mama and daddy. I want them to live on till they're called.

(Soundbite of music)

CHRISTGAU: And even that one is topped by a Gene Autry song that sums up the tenderness and the frailties that suffices this record.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: The album from Willie Nelson, Ray Price and Merle Haggard is called "Last of the Breed." Our reviewer Robert Christgau is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone magazine.

(Soundbite of song, "That Silver Haired Daddy of Time")

Mr. NELSON: (Singing) Fighting the battle of time. Is a dear one who's weathered my sorrows, tis that silver-haired daddy of mine.


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Christgau
Robert Christgau contributes regular music reviews to All Things Considered.