Waylon Jennings has been gone from this world for more than two years now, and the worthy praise and tributes to him seem forced in some respects. Re-issues of albums and other collections have popped up every few months in an attempt to cash in on his passing. If he were alive today, he might appreciate the kudos but see the releases for what they are. This latest collection is supposedly the “ultimate” collection, but overall it sadly pales in comparison to other recent releases, namely Waylon Live: The Expanded Edition. Sure, there are several hits, but there seems to be a lot of questionable material for such a record.
Jennings was best known for his rebel outlaw person alongside Willie Nelson, but prior to that he walked the country line with songs such as “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line”. The song has just a touch of harmonica and very little of the rambling country feel that made him a legend. It’s the type of song best left to the likes of either Merle Haggard or George Jones. “The Taker”, from his 1970 album The Taker/Tulsa, has a bit more of that classic Waylon style, despite the light female harmonies in the background. However, it isn’t until one hits the jugband-like bass line of “This Time” that the album comes into focus. “I’m a Ramblin’ Man” still can mosey with the best of the “new” country, but the mix tends to fluctuate often, especially noticeable if you have headphones on.
The heart of the album tends to be the second half-dozen songs, beginning with the toe tapping “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”. “Somebody told me when I came to Nashville, ‘Son you finally got it made’”, Jennings sings about the industry at the time and how he went against the rhinestone grain. His work with Willie Nelson is also featured, although “Good Hearted Woman” sounds more like a highly overdubbed live performance, with audience roars thrown in every so often. The song itself is possibly his signature tune, but doesn’t seem to shine in comparison to the other sleeper songs here. The fade out is also horrible, cutting the legs out from underneath the song. A paltry horn section on the insipid “Are You Ready for the Country” has a murky Southern sound but is far from his best work.
Jennings wasn’t known for his softer side, but there are a few nuggets here that show that part of him. “Luckenback, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)” is a good example, with its soulful touches accented by pedal steel guitar. “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys” ensues, another Waylon and Willie ditty that sways to a waltz-like arrangement. But “I’ve Always Been Crazy” is a far better song despite the lack of its popularity, as Jennings gives his best vocal performance thus far. Each of the songs from this period are mini-biographies, particularly this one—the free-living, 250 dates a year, and the need to be on via any means or drug necessary. A true miscue, though, is including “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got out of Hand”, a rampant romp that doesn’t improve the record much if at all.
One personal favorite is “Amanda”, one of his best by far and a forerunner of what would be less of the Nashville sound and more of what the Texas-Americana-alt.country format acts today soak up. Still having a bit of honky-tonk in it, the sparseness of the song is its greatest asset. The adherence to the three-minute song, though, is absolutely asinine in hindsight, especially on the gorgeous ballad “Come with Me”, which seems to cut at least a minute out of the song’s conclusion. It’s an ominous note that marks the last third of this album.
After we’re given that Dukes of Hazzard theme in its entirety, which really is probably one of his weaker songs of all time, the album goes down south quite quickly. “Women Do Know How to Carry On” is nothing more than filler and would be an outrage to most diehard fans given the fact tracks like “You Asked Me To” are not included. The fact that the tune sounds like Dire Straits is enough evidence to ignore it completely. “I May Be Used (But I Ain’t Used Up)” also disappoints, as Jennings tried to change with the times in the early ‘80s. He even mentions it in the lyrics. Then there’s the Buffett-esque sound of the jingoistic “America”, and a Highwayman song of the same name, the super group of Waylon, Willie, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson.
The album has about two-thirds of essentials and one-third of filler or material that is far from required listening. A better bet would be the recent live album. You won’t get the homage to Bo and Luke, but do you really need it? Overall, it’s a good attempt to pay homage to the late legend, but it’s not “the” album.