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Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Ray Price

Last of the Breed – 2007 (Lost Highway)

Reviewed by Robert Loy

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CDs by Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Ray Price

It's never actually stated whether the title "Last of the Breed" refers to the singers Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Ray Price or the songs. Either might apply. The singers between them, have somewhere around 150 years of experience and like (yesterday's) wine, they've gotten better with age. And most of the songs on this two-disc set (like "Heartaches by the Number" and "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down") were written back in country's golden age (or in the case of "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine" even earlier) and even the two new ones (Nelson's "Back to Earth" and Haggard's "Sweet Jesus") sound like something that would have been right at home between Lefty Frizzell and Webb Pierce on any jukebox in the 1950's.

There's so much good stuff going on here - the lessons in musical phraseology when these three legends good-naturedly compete on tracks like "Goin' Away Party" to mention just one. But what is equally appreciated is what's not here - no migraine-inducing drums or elaborate overproduction to interfere with the music. That's the way they used to do it back in the day, kids, when they didn't have all that technology to cover up a singer's shortcomings or a lot of razzle-dazzle to distract the listener from noticing the lack of talent and heart. It's refreshingly unnecessary here.

And hey, maybe it doesn't matter if "Last of the Breed" refers to singers or songs, as long as it doesn't refer to albums. If ever a project cried out for a sequel, it's this one.