Willie Nelson and Family are welcomed on stage at the Granada Theater in Dallas on Jan. 03, 2017. Ben Torres/Special Contributor

Willie Nelson and Family are welcomed on stage at the Granada Theater in Dallas on Jan. 03, 2017. Ben Torres/Special Contributor

Ben Torres/Special Contributor

Texas legend Willie Nelson's latest studio album Last Man Standing, out on Friday, April 27, is a fantastic honky-tonk record. And given that this record comes a year after he released his last one, God's Problem Child, and only months after he canceled months worth of shows due to a number of ailments, it's a remarkable achievement.

Produced by accomplished Nashville producer Buddy Cannon, who co-wrote each of the new record's 11 songs, Last Man Standing tackles the fact that earthly time is certainly not on Nelson's side. 

But Willie wouldn't be Willie if he simply acknowledged that foreboding fact while retreating into silence. Unlike last year's fine effort and many of his oddball recording choices in the recent past -- do you know where your copy of Willie's 2005, unintentionally hilarious reggae Countryman CD is anymore? -- Last Man Standing is filled with heartwarming familiarity and tunes that stack up well with the hits that have come to define a large part of the Red Headed Stranger's catalog.

Here are four takeaways from Last Man Standing. 

Laughter is the best medicine

You could scan the song titles to get a decent feel for the messages Nelson conveys on Last Man Standing, but you'd miss out on the best stuff, just below the surface. The best example is in "Bad Breath," where he sings "But bad breath is better than no breath at all." 

Willie's always been funny, yet with the specter of death hovering over every article written about him, his strategy of puff, puff, laugh isn't only fun to listen to. It's also comforting.

The Texas outlaw enjoys this Music City producer

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Nelson might be an outlaw and somewhat of a mainstream outsider, but he's sustained his iconic career by knowing a great thing when he hears it. His budding, creative partnership with Cannon, who is most famous for being the producer for Kenny Chesney during his rocket ride to pop country fame, has been an artistic shot of B-12 that simply can't be ignored. Few would question it if Nelson slowed down his recording, or if he stopped altogether, but when his albums of new material are as high-quality as 2012's Heroes and 2014's Band of Brothers, let alone this one, that'd be like asking Super Bowl legend Tom Brady to stop playing football simply because he's older than his teammates.

It's not just a great record, it's a true Willie Nelson effort

Yes, the aforementioned reggae record was a disaster, and there are other off-the-wall choices where it was tough to not wonder what he was thinking, but Last Man Standing is a keeper for any Nelson fan. There are tempo shifts and stylistic differences from one track to the next; the collection is tighter than one of Willie's special cigarettes. Listen to "Me and You" and try not to hear the echoes of his 1984 classic, galloping train tune "City of New Orleans" for maybe the most obvious example of Nelson sticking to his signature guns. The sounds that made Willie famous are strikingly present and accounted for, including boogie-woogie rhythms, honky-tonk piano, Mickey Raphael's signature harmonica, jazz-inflected flourishes and of course, the unmistakable strums of Trigger, Nelson's beloved Martin N-20 nylon string acoustic guitar.

He's uncertain and honest about death

I saw Willie Nelson perform Saturday night, and it was beautiful, and it was sad

Although his voice sounds better on this record than it has in any concert he's given in recent years, there's obvious wear and tear to be detected. It's not always pretty, but such a reality is a splendid vehicle for the life and death questions these songs wrestle with. The predictable path would've been for Nelson to defiantly laugh at death in the face while puffing out his chest in a "bring it on" sort of way, but that wouldn't be Willie. The uncertain honesty in the title track where he sings "I don't want to be the last man standing, but on second thought maybe I do" and the ominously hopeful wishes of "Heaven is Closed," where he sings "Heaven is closed, and hell is overcrowded, so I think I'll just stay where I am," lay bare the mortal anxiety that comes with being a man closer to the end than he's comfortable with. 

As the last man standing, Nelson might have seen it all, but he doesn't know what's waiting on the other side. 

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