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story.lead_photo.caption Willie Nelson, "First Rose of Spring"

The 70th studio album from 87-year-old Willie Nelson has more to do with fall and winter than it does with spring, metaphorically speaking. There's a preoccupation here with the passage of time and the looming sense that the end is near.

It's a sublime and moving set that continues the first-rate work the legend has been doing in recent years.

To be sure, there are diversions, including the carefree swing of "Just Bummin' Around" and a vigorous rip through the Johnny Paycheck anthem "I'm the Only Hell My Momma Ever Raised." But the album takes its main cue from the leadoff title song, a tearjerker that unfolds at an unhurried pace.

Numbers by Toby Keith ("Don't Let the Old Man In") and Chris Stapleton ("Our Song") fit right in to the theme and mood, as do two solid Nelson originals written with producer Buddy Cannon ("Blue Star" and "Love Just Laughed").

The spare accompaniment — accented by Mickey Raphael's moaning harmonica and also featuring some short, eloquent runs by Nelson on Trigger, his battered guitar — matches the singer's dry and understated delivery, although his voice is finally betraying some signs of fraying.

Nelson concludes with "Yesterday When I Was Young," the Charles Aznavour standard about reckoning with the wages of a misspent and profligate youth. If he harbors any regrets from his own long and storied life, it's clear from his performance that they have only served to enrich his artistry. 

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