Misc. Artists: Outlaw Country: Live From Austin, TX [DVD]

Leigh H. Edwards

The effort to share music with fellow travelers and the appreciative Austin audience is a key part of that painful, uncertain effort to reach insight and express meaning through the music.

Various Artists

Outlaw Country: Live From Austin, TX

Distributor: New West
MPAA rating: N/A
Contributors: Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver, Kimmie Rhodes
Label: New West
US Release Date: 2006-09-19

Cowboy boots, bad boy stories, and crack musicianship dominate this installment of Austin City Limits. This DVD release features the "Outlaw Country" concert from 22 September, 1996. Instead of the edited 30-minute version aired on PBS, this is the full footage of this evening of song-swapping, story-telling, and leg-pulling. The longer cut highlights the familiarity and camaraderie that are distinctive to this historic group of musicians. And it also underscores the main theme of the concert: outlaws singing each other home to the bittersweet comforts of family. Along the way, it becomes clear how much the gathered pickers, singers, and songwriters are each other's musical family.

In 14 numbers, each performer takes a turn as they swap songs around a semi-circle. Some are rollicking, in the vein of Waylon Jennings's and Willie Nelson's earlier signature outlaw country innovations. They were outlaws because they circumvented the Nashville music machine, using their own edgier sound and musicians. But the outlaw vibe is more muted here, as many of the songs swapped are acoustic ballads of lost love, found love, or religious confessionals.

The brotherly bond is obvious between Jennings, Nelson, and Kristofferson. That's three-fourths of the country supergroup, The Highwaymen. Johnny Cash is not part of this concert, but his presence hangs over the proceedings. One feels his absence because you expect his voice to be there on the Highwaymen songs. While esteemed songwriter Billy Joe Shaver, who wrote several memorable songs for Cash, and singer-songwriter Kimmie Rhodes are there to fill out the group, it's not quite the same, and the difference is palpable. As if to make up for the fact that Cash couldn't be there that night, his comrades tell lots of stories about him, marking how he informed their collective sonic work.

When Nelson leads the assembled group in his song "We Don't Run", he introduces it by saying, "Remember when The Highwaymen were together [jovial laughter], we used to do this song." Jennings and Kristofferson eagerly join in on the rollicking song featuring harmonica and a Nelson solo on his famously banged-up acoustic guitar. Afterwards, Kristofferson describes trying to play 12-string guitar and singing to accompany Nelson as the "definition of controlled chaos". Here as on other songs in the concert, Nelson's distinctive jazz inflections in his singing and guitar playing stand out compellingly -- but can also give other musicians fits trying to meld in.

Jennings, usually the easy breezy jokester, keeps the references to their group musical bond going, and inflects it with deeper meaning, when he introduces his song, "I Do Believe". A lilting, thoughtful ballad in which Jennings sings "In my own way, I'm a believer", accompanying himself on his equally-famous electric guitar with the leather print (now played by his son, Shooter Jennings). In explaining the inspiration for the song, Jennings tells the story of a "bootleg preacher" and friend of The Highwaymen named Will Campbell who once asked him about his faith in response to Jennings asking him to explain Cash's (a question to which Campbell responded that he didn't know). Jennings sings movingly of his attempts to make his own peace with religious faith, in a voice that is authoritative and, as the genre demands, sincere.

The meditative songs about family include, perhaps most poignantly, Shaver's plaintive ballad about his ex-wife, "First and Last Time". Shaver tells the audience that the song is a true story about the wife he married and divorced twice. While Shaver's voice can be weak and wavery, his song-writing is impeccable. He sings solo a cappella, with lyrics like "she didn't love me" and when love leaves you, "you roll with the punches" and "cry when it's gone". The camera captures a shot of his son Eddy sitting behind him on stage, looking visibly moved, as does Nelson. His son later accompanies him, strumming a wicked slide guitar, on Shaver's "You Just Can't Beat Jesus Christ", his playful expression of his hard-won faith. Rhodes also makes it all in the family when she plays her song, "Lines", accompanied by her son, Gabe, on guitar (and by some good old boy jokes from Jennings). Kristofferson (also known for his ragged voice but superstar songwriting) offers up a song "for my kids and their mamas", "Promise". and Jennings includes one joking song about a bad marriage, "I'd Have Been Out of Jail" (if he had just killed her instead of suffering through seven years with her), and a celebratory song about a good one (to fellow outlaw Jessi Coulter), "Just Watch Your Mama and Me".

As if summing up the storied careers of the musical greats and mavericks up there with him, Kristofferson brings an added gravitas to all the talk of family and faith by going existential on "Pilgrim's Progress", a song he had recently written. He details his fraught and yet determined attempts to reach some form of enlightenment, and his smart, insightful lyrics are nicely paired with his piercing harmonica. The implication is that such a concert, the effort to share music with his fellow travelers and his appreciative Austin audience, is a key part of that painful, uncertain effort to reach insight and express meaning through the music.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.