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."
He vows to do better the next time around.
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.
This is not a big, loud eye-catching CD likely to recruit new fans. It's more like the latest addition to a long-running saga, another burst of creativity from a towering American artist who can't seem to stop writing, singing and playing guitar.