Record reviews


WILLIE NELSON

Album: “Last Man Standing”

Grade: B

Does a lifetime of smoking weed produce chronic bad breath by the time you’re a few days short of 85?

Most of us will never know, but Willie Nelson suggests it does in one of the warm, quiet songs on his mortality-tinged “Last Man Standing” CD.

Willie’s been joking about death for a while now — better to keep it at bay, perhaps — and the wisdom he offers on this one is memorable: “Bad breath is better than no breath at all.”

A more serious approach colors the title song, which opens this 11-song collection, co-written with longtime producer Buddy Cannon.

“I don’t want to be the last man standing,” he opens the CD, lamenting the loss of so many of his closest friends. Then there’s a pause – considering the alternative, as the old chestnut goes – before adding, “Well, then maybe I do.”

That sets the tone. For longtime fans, who have enjoyed Willie for decades, it forces a painful acknowledgement that the end may be near.

Later he muses on reincarnation, saying he might come back as a preacher or an eagle. And he expresses his desire to continue living this way: “Heaven is closed and hell’s overcrowded so I think I’ll stay where I am.”

Perhaps the strongest tune is the final one – “Very Far to Crawl” – which deals with heartbreak, not aging, on bluesy terms.

A couple of the tunes sound lifeless and soppy, but there’s plenty to enjoy.

—Gregory Katz, Associated Press

The Temptations

Album: “All the Time”

Grade: A

Every music star covers The Temptations at some point. So what happens when this legendary group does its own covers?

The answer is something very special when the Motown icons get their hands on songs by Sam Smith, Bruno Mars, John Mayer, Maxwell, Ed Sheeran, Michael Jackson and The Weeknd. Some covers might even be better than the originals.

The R&B pioneers who gave us “My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” and “Get Ready” are respectful of each tune they handle on the 10-track “All the Time” but still infuse their own gospel-tinged sound and distinct soulful harmonies.

“Still Feel Like Your Man” is stripped of Mayer’s sharp guitar work in favor of strings and new R&B clothes. Unbelievably, Smith’s astonishing vocals on “Stay With Me” are matched in a white-hot cover (could it be that, maybe, you’re not that special, Mr. Smith?).

A fantastic reworking of Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” now fits effortlessly into The Temptations’ catalog, even deepening its emotion. Mars’ spare, piano-driven ballad “When I Was Your Man” is given plenty of strings and background harmonies.

The Temps — Terry Weeks, Larry Braggs, Otis Williams, Ron Tyson and Willie Greene — also offer three terrific original songs, as if to prove they don’t need to rely on covers at all.

So whether it’s new songs or old classics — or, as with this album, even somebody else’s tune — you can’t beat The Temptations. It’s the way they do the things they do.

—Mark Kennedy, Associated Press

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