For the Last Time documents two historic moments in American music: The last time Bob Wills would ever attend or participate in a recording session -- he never made the final day of the session, having suffered a severe stroke the night before -- and the reunion of the great Texas Playboys, who began in the 1930s and recorded and toured together through the beginning of World War II. All living members were present, as well as Texas Playboy-for-a-day Merle Haggard, who drove all night from Chicago to make the session (he literally begged Wills to be a part of the sessions). These sessions took place on December 3 and 4, 1973, in Dallas, a short ride from Wills' home, with most of the '30s and '40s band in place, including Leon McAuliffe and Leon Rausch acting as vocalists for the lion's share of the material, with Wills singing on six tracks and Haggard guesting on three and playing fiddle as part of the string section. Haggard's singing on "Texas Playboy Theme" is particularly moving, and one can hear the pride in his voice as Wills gives his patented "ahhhhhh-haaaaaaawwwww!" to show his own pleasure with the proceedings. Wills was seated in the center of the band and actually directed it from his wheelchair. What is most remarkable is that on certain cuts -- such as "Blue Bonnet Lane," a track recorded for a movie in 1942 and not performed since -- the band nailed it on one take. Tommy Allsup's production is flawless in that it is so minimal it's almost as if the band were playing in the listener's living room. He captures the warmth, immediacy, and overwhelming emotion in the proceedings as they happen on such Texas Playboy classics as "San Antonio Rose," "Faded Love," "What Makes Bob Holler," "Big Ball's in Cowtown," "Bubbles in My Beer," "That's What I Like About the South," "Milk Cow Blues," "Twin Guitar Boogie," and "When You Leave Amarillo," just to name a few. Fiddle great Hoyle and son Jody Nix actually guest on a couple of tracks in the vocal seat, and Wills gives them his approving nod with his drawling yodel. In all, this is far from the lame tribute record we see so frequently these days; this is a deeply moving and inspiringly executed presentation of Bob Wills as not only a bandleader, but as an innovator and mentor. In other words, it is the only fitting tribute possible, with the man still very much alive sitting among his bandmates for the very last time.
review by: Thom Jurek VIA allmusic.com