“Heaven is closed/And hell’s overcrowded,” Willie Nelson sings on his new album. “So I think I’ll just stay where I am.” Just one year after his unsuspecting opus God’s Problem Child, Nelson, 84, is back with Last Man Standing, the latest in his series of late-career ruminations helmed by producer Buddy Cannon. Whereas last year’s God’s Problem Child found Nelson staring down death in the mirror on meditations like “Old Timer” and “True Love,” this record finds the honky-tonk prophet satirizing the slow march of time with humorous musings set to a comfortable blend of Western swing and roadhouse blues.
Nelson tackles dementia (“Don’t Tell Noah”), his fallen contemporaries (“Last Man Standing”) and reincarnation (“I’ll Try to Do Better Next Time”). “Halitosis is a word I never could spell,” he sings. “But bad breath is better than no breath at all.” Despite his supply of witty one-liners, Nelson is most affecting these days when offering sage advice. “It’s not something you get over,” he offers, reflecting on a lifetime of loss and mourning. “But it’s something you get through.” On Last Man Standing, Willie Nelson continues to turn his ninth decade into a classic country song full of remembrance, regret and resilience.