Album Reviews

Waylon Jennings – Waylon Forever

(V2) UK release date: 27 April 2009

Waylon Jennings died of diabetes in 2002, after an almost mythic life ofhighs and lows, both musical and otherwise. Narrowly avoiding dying on theplane crash that killed Buddy Holly in 1959, having ceded his seat on theplane at the last minute to The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson), he went on tobreak free of Nashville constraints in the early ’70s.

In so doing he became one of thekey players in the so-called “Outlaw Country” scene (with his great friendand ally Willy Nelson), all the while battling some well-documentedaddictions and consequent health problems, and finding time to serve asnarrator and write and sing the theme tune to popular US comedy TheDukes Of Hazzard.

After more than 40 years in the music business he left behind a longand distinguished country and rock back catalogue, which is now beingsupplemented by this release, put together by son Shooter (and his ownbacking band) using previously unreleased vocal recordings left behindafter his father’s death.

Clearly, Shooter could only work with what was available, so it wouldperhaps be churlish to observe that, at only eight tracks, including acouple of cover versions (White Room – originally by Cream, andNeil Young‘s Are You Ready For The Country), this feels a littlethin. Much of the rest of the material comprises re-recorded versions ofsongs that will already be familiar to fans of the artist, with only onegenuinely “new” original track, I Found The Body – an almost psychedelictake on country rock.

Each track is delivered with a vocal that lends credence and character toJennings’ grizzled tales of hard living. “He slipped the handcuffs onbehind my back / And left me reeling on a steel reel rack”, from Ain’tLivin’ Long Like This, for example, which – in a possibly deliberate irony -is programmed to follow Outlaw Shit (the title rather marvellously amendedfrom the original Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out Of Hand),featuring Waylon complaining about the false outlaw image imposed on him andhis cohorts by big city music industry, mythologizing: “What started out tobe a joke / The law don’t understand”.

The tracks that surprise here are the White Room cover, which the singerimbues with a sense of both trippy drama and definite grandeur, whilestill very much claiming it as his own; and the previously mentioned I FoundThe Body, which has definite shades of post-Barrett Pink Floyd in itsproduction values and also uses a peculiar vocal distortion. There’s evidencehere, then, of a willingness to experiment with the genre right up to theend of his life, although it is hard to decode how much of the resultinginnovation can be attributed to the father, and how much to the son.

Other than this it is frankly quite difficult to see for whom, bar WaylonJennings completists, this album will really hold much appeal. In nearlyall instances the listener would be better advised to go back to theoriginal versions than the reworkings here, and uncover for themselves theback catalogue highlights of this unique, intriguing artist. That is wherethe gems will be uncovered – not, regrettably, in thiswell-intentioned misfire of a compilation.

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Waylon Jennings – Waylon Forever