PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard: Django and Jimmie

Comfort is the way here, but there’s also an ongoing obsession with age, the passing of time and the surprises that come with it.


Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard

Django and Jimmie

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2015-06-02
UK Release Date: 2015-06-01
Amazon
iTunes

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s first album together, and their most commercially successful to date, was titled Pancho and Lefty, in 1983. The new one, essentially their sixth, has a similar format to its title: Django and Jimmie. Although the title track is no enigmatic classic like the Townes Van Zandt song, it’s more of a chance for two legends to reminisce about their musical influences. The tone they take is tender, humble even while quietly self-aggrandizing. Like, Yes, we’re legends, but we bow down before the legends who inspired us. “There might not have been a Merle or Willie / if not for Django and Jimmie.” There’s a slight pause right before “...or a Willie” that’s easy to miss but loaded with meaning -- a phrasing thing, the way Nelson stretches out his delivery, but also an introduction to a star’s name. The song’s smartness carries into the way it tries to emulate the ease and clarity of the two past legends, Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers (of course), while also carrying the similar but different traits of Nelson and Haggard.

That’s where Django and Jimmie lies, in the intersection between resting on your laurels and having a fun time with new songs and old. On the whole, it’s front-porch music, with a nostalgic tone but also a lighthearted one. It’s very self-referential but also carries that in-the-moment sort of presence, like you’re witnessing a jam session between friends. They sing together, while Nelson plays guitar and his band provides the rest; everyone sounding like they’re having a ball.

There are a lot of looking-back touchpoints. They do a classic Merle song (“Swinging Doors”) and a classic Willie song (“Family Bible”). There’s a song looking back on their friend Johnny Cash (“Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash”); they also work in a reference to him on the title track. There’s a Bob Dylan song (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”, which is starting to feel like the Dylan cover of choice for country singers) and one about a hippie fan/possible groupie (“Alice in Hulaland”) that references Hawaii and has a nice tropical feeling about it.

And there’s “It’s All Going to Pot”, kind of a novelty song but also a cranky, ‘world’s gone to hell’ one, featuring wordplay and pot. That song, the album’s ostensible hit single, was written by Buddy Cannon, Jamey Johnson and Larry Shell, and features Johnson for a moment, doing his best Waylon (or his best Johnson, I suppose).

Buddy Cannon is the other presence here worth mentioning, easily overlooked. He co-wrote four of the songs, and produced the album. If you haven’t noticed, that makes it, by my count, the seventh Willie Nelson album Cannon has produced in the last seven years. That started with 2008’s Moment of Forever, for my money one of Nelson’s classic late-career albums, an unrecognized masterpiece. That album had a focus to the sound, a deceptively relaxed setting that was actually full and atmospheric, doing a lot with apparent minimalism, and it captured Nelson’s singing voice and guitar playing clearly and well. Those qualities have carried through the other albums, some of which feel like larks -- the duets album To All the Girls…, the throwback Let’s Face the Music and Dance -- but none of which should be treated as ‘just another Willie Nelson album’. Nelson is in the thick of his “Buddy Cannon era”, and it’s been a great run. Django and Jimmie fits right into the sound, style and quality of those albums.

There’s a clear perspective to the album, one that hits a very particular place between carefree fun and longing for the past. For all the goofiness and playing around, there’s an immaculate sadness to songs like the lovelorn “Somewhere Between” and the end-of-the-line “Where Dreams Come to Die”. That song, a chronicle of the downtrodden that doubles as a religious number about eternity, shares a sense of here-I-am-in-this-moment feeling with the song “Live This Long”. That one carries in its lyrics some knowing jokes about the “outlaw” lifestyle that at least Nelson, and perhaps occasionally Haggard, is slotted into. “We’d have taken much better care of ourselves / if we’d have known we was gonna live this long”, they sing.

That song and the album play off the personas of these two living legends. The album ends on a note like that, with “The Only Man Wilder Than Me” (as in, “He’s the only man wilder than me”). Yet the album also hits on touchpoints between them that feel natural and synchronous. Comfort is the way here, but there’s also an ongoing obsession with age, the passing of time and the surprises that come with it.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.