The late country icon Waylon Jennings pioneered the "outlaw" country sound and inspired countless artists to delve into his soulful style. Here's a quick look at some of the "best-of" collections gathering his work...
Waylon Jennings "The Best Of Waylon Jennings" (RCA, 1970)
Waylon Jennings "Greatest Hits" (RCA, 1979)
Waylon Jennings "Greatest Hits (Expanded Edition)" (RCA, 1979)
Waylon Jennings "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line: The RCA Years" (RCA, 1993)
Waylon Jennings "The Collector's Series" (1985)
Waylon Jennings "The Best Of Waylon" (1986)
Waylon Jennings "Waylon's Greatest Hits, Volume 2" (RCA, 1984)
Waylon Jennings "The Essential" (RCA Nashville, 1996)
Oh, baby! When I was a kid, I used to love all those boozy, weatherbitten raggedyass self-mythologizing songs Jennings made back during the glory days of the Waylon and Willie "outlaw" era in the 1970s... and this CD brings it all back home beautifully. Waylon's sly, bluesy, matter-of-fact delivery has such a great sound... easily one of the most relaxed and intelligent-sounding country singers ever. This is one of the most rockin' of the RCA Essential collections, completely omitting his years as a '60s folkie, and just piling on hit after country hit. Highly recommended.
Waylon Jennings "RCA Country Legends" (Buddah, 2001)
This is an awesome 2-CD set, although I have to confess, I prefer the more compact delivery of the earlier single-disc collection on the Essential series (which is better to just put on and enjoy from start to finish...) But this expanded, super-duper best-of is a fitting and timely tribute to the late Texas legend, who passed away right about the time it came out. Also, it includes way more of his hard-to-find early work when he still hadn't left Nashville to hunker down, back home in Texas. Good collection -- highly recommended!
Waylon Jennings "The Millennium Collection" (MCA Nashville, 2000)
An impressive, soulful, 11-song collection of Waylon's later work on MCA, between 1986-89. Still kickin' it, and keepin' it real, Waylon sounded surprisingly strong amid the synthiness of the times. Yeah, this has some silly pop touches, but compared to what else was happening at the time, it's pretty vigorous material. Definitely worth checking out.
Waylon Jennings "Journey: Six Strings Away" (Bear Family, 1999)
Waylon Jennings "Journey: Destiny's Child" (Bear Family, 2002)
Waylon Jennings "The Complete MCA Recordings" (MCA-Nashville, 2004)
Waylon Jennings "16 Biggest Hits" (Sony-BMG, 2005)
Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson "16 Biggest Hits" (Sony-BMG, 2006)
Waylon Jennings "Nashville Rebel (Box Set)" (Sony-BMG Legacy, 2006)
An awesome 4-CD box set, covering Waylon's full career, including some later material on the MCA label... Disc One is one of the best overviews of Waylon's early work you're likely to hear, a well-chosen set that weaves through his early hits and late-'60s "folk-country" efforts... This may be the stuff that drove Jennings to chafe against the Nashville studio system and go "outlaw," but there's still plenty of interesting, innovative material, and this disc does a great job weeding out most of the lame stuff while finding some of the best nuggets... Disc Two traces his path towards the haloed ground of outlaw legend, starting with a bunch of his early '70s work (much of which I find a bit strained, particularly all those gabby, verbose Shel Silverstein songs...) and winding up smack dab in the middle of his glory years. When he starts singing stuff like "Just Pretend I Never Happened," Billy Joe Shaver's "Honky Tonk Heroes," and Bob McDill's "Amanda," well, that's all you need to know. The man was a god. Disc Three spans 1974-1980, more pure gold, from "Good Hearted Woman" to "Good Ol' Boys," including all those groovy duets with Willie Nelson and Jessi Colter, the sort of stuff you build a shrine for... Inevitably, Disc Four (1980-1995) is a downward slide, but that's only because the bar had been set so high in the '70s -- hard for anyone to top a track record like that. Things kick off with "Storms Never Last," probably my favorite Waylon & Jessi duet, and cruise into the Highwaymen phenomenon and his lingering later hits. As with the first disc, though, this is collection does a great job weaving this material together, picking up old favorites such as "Lucille," "America" and "Will The Wolf Survive," as well as a bunch of later Waylon & Willie tunes. The inclusion of the rival-label MCA material is a real treat, making this a much more definitive set than it would otherwise have been (although it's a shame they didn't also include "Too Dumb For New York City, Too Ugly For L.A.," one of his funniest later songs... But I guess ya can't have everything...) So... Do you need to pick this box set up? Probably... It's got all those great songs you already own on those other Waylon best-ofs, but it's more comprehensive, and the '60s stuff is a treat... There are also three "new," previously unreleased, tracks, including a duet with Johnny Cash that got dug out of the vaults... Mostly, though, it's such a well-programmed, well thought-out that set you'll really enjoy listening to each disc. This doesn't feel like just another by-the-numbers greatest hits package, but rather a living, breathing tribute that lives up to its subject. And besides, you're never really going to listen to those gigantic Bear Family boxes, so why not get this more managable, more affordable American-made set instead? It'll knock your socks off, Hoss.
Waylon Jennings "The Essential Waylon Jennings" (Sony-BMG Legacy, 2007)
Looks like ol' Hoss has gotten an upgrade... Personally, I'm still partial to the original Essential set from '96 -- it's just so well programmed and compact -- but hey, if they wanna throw a new, 2-CD set our way, with twice as much stuff, that's dandy, too. This set hews pretty closely to Waylon's RCA glory years, although it doesn't dig as deep or go as far afield as the recent Nashville Rebel box set... It's a nice, affordable midway point between the two, a strong introduction to one of country music's most charismatic, smoulderingly sexy performers, and is likely to be the standard best-of set for years to come. If you're new to the Waylon Jennings sound, this collection oughta knock your socks off.
Various Artists "I'VE ALWAYS BEEN CRAZY: A TRIBUTE TO WAYLON JENNINGS" (RCA Nashville, 2003)
An iffy major label tribute to the late, great Waylon Jennings. It's fitting that Waylon's longtime label, RCA, should host a tribute to the old guy, but it's kinda sad that this is the best they could do. Most of these modern artists simply slaughter the songs with brisk, thoughtless overkill. The disc opens with John Mellencamp (still in the midst of his back-to-roots kick) tromping out a so-so version of "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way," which -- as it turns out -- is one of the better performances on the album. Many artists I'd have thought would show more affinity for Waylon's subtle side -- Deana Carter or Sara Evans, for instance, or Brooks & Dunn -- either gallumpf to the finish line or layer too much fancy stuff on. Modern-day second-stringers like Pinmonkey and James Hetfield just get in the way; Kenny Chesney is wasted singing opposite the hammy, competitive, warbling Kid Rock.. The list goes on and on. On the plus side, Travis Tritt does okay with "Lonesome, On'ry And Mean," Alison Krauss gives a nice, quiet reading of "You Asked Me To," Andy Griggs holds his own as well, and Dwight Yoakam blows them all out of the water with a rollicking version of "Stop The World And Let Me Off." The most touching moments are a fragile Waylon rendition of "The Dream," and Jessi Colter, resurfacing for a ragged yet rightous reprise of "Storms Never Last..." On the whole, though... talk about missed opportunities.
Various Artists "LONESOME, ON'RY AND MEAN" (Dualtone, 2003)
A well-produced and nicely varied tribute album... A few of these songs are a bit cumbersome, but others are a delight, particularly Norah Jones's spin at "Wurlitzer Prize," Dave Alvin's appropriately resonant version of "Amanda," and Guy Clark's take on "Good Hearted Woman." Also nice is a sweet version on "Waymore's Blues," done by the remnants of Buddy Holly's old band, the Crickets, an amiable and super-competent outfit who remain, curiously, unsigned and exiled on the periphery of the roots and oldies scene. The most glaring "which of these things is not like the other?" track is Henry Rollins' cowpunky stab at the title track, which -- wisely enough -- is buried at the end of the album, so roots fans don't have to fast forward past it. A nice tribute, though, definitely worth checking out, even if no one could do this material as well as Waylon did. He was the coolest of the cool.
Various Artists "WHITE MANSIONS" (RCA, 1978)
Various Artists "THE MUSIC INSIDE: A COLLABORATION DEDICATED TO WAYLON" (Scatter, 2010)
(Produced by Witt Stewart)
Various Artists "WAYLON JENNINGS, THE RED RIVER TRIBUTE COMPILATION" (Omaha, 2003)
Various Artists "WAYLON: THE MUSIC INSIDE, v.2" (Average Joe's, 2012)
(Produced by Witt Stewart & Friends)
Nashville's current crop of outlaw-identified singers -- dudes like Dierks Bentley, Colt Ford, Justin Moore and Montgomery Gentry -- pay homage to the great Waylon Jennings. Also on board are semi-old-timers like Pat Green and Jack Ingram, as well as Hank Jr. and, adding an extra layer of class, Waylon's longtime partner, outlaw queen Jessi Colter. The one head-scratcher on here is folk-popster Jewel, who looks "one of these things is not like the other" when lined up with all the bad-boys, but she does sing a lovely version of "Dreaming My Dreams." Also noteworthy is the rugged, raspy "bonus track" by Wyatt McCubbin that closes out the album -- he's one of the outside country dudes that the Average Joe's label gives a chance to record stuff that Nashville's major labels would overlook... His version of "A Long Time Ago" is a nice coda to a pretty solid set of Waylon covers. Definitely worth a spin.
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