A holy triumvirate of American outlaw music, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price are also among the more durable hit-makers in the history of country. In the '50s, Price was pegged as the new Hank Williams (Senior, not the "Are you ready for some football?" guy); he recorded barroom classics like "Crazy Arms" and "Heartaches By The Number" before becoming a slick countrypolitan singer in the '60s, setting a template that's still making guys like Tim McGraw rich. Nelson and Haggard have cut similar paths, coming to the mainstream as outsiders and cannily using their rebel images to appease hardcore fans, while scoring on the charts with radio-friendly songs that have occasionally moseyed into schmaltzy, decidedly non-badass territory.
Last Of The Breed, a two-disc collection of 22 leisurely performed country standards, will frustrate those looking for a heavy dose of whiskey-drinkin', butt-kickin' 'tude. With its warmly mellow production by veteran record-maker Fred Foster, Last Of The Breed is reminiscent of a contemporary country-pop record… from about 40 years ago. The title is more thankful than defiant—after surviving long careers with enough ups and downs to fill 10 lifetimes, these AARP-card-carrying cowboys just want to relax by a warm fire and strum some nice tunes.
Last Of The Breed begins with "My Life's Been A Pleasure," originally recorded by Haggard and Nelson for 1983's Pancho & Lefty, and it gently establishes the album's theme of hard-won serenity and grateful remembrance for the good old days gone by. But since most of these songs have been recorded better elsewhere, Last Of The Breed is hardly the essential listen the lineup suggests. While it's impossible to begrudge these legends a pleasant trip through their back catalogues, it's tough not to get sleepy in the back seat.