New Waylon Jennings Offering a Posthumous Return for the Tattered Troubadour

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Waylon Jennings | The Outlaw Performance (PRE-ORDER HERE) | Eagle Vision

4 out of 5 stars

The outlaw ethic, at least as far as country music is concerned, originated with a select group of artists who defied Nashville’s traditional template and chose to rebel in the same determination that drove those who turned rock into rebellion. Waylon Jennings was at the forefront of the insurrection, and his album, Wanted! The Outlaws, a collection of individual offerings by  Waylon, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser helped kickstart the movement in 1976. The timing was appropriate; America was celebrating the bicentennial of its own revolt from Great Britain and the punk movement was just beginning to take hold in the U.K. Still, it was a bold move considering the conservative stance traditionally taken by the country establishment and the rightward tilt of its most devoted followers.

Happily, Jennings remained a rebel, and despite encounters with the authorities, mostly due to drug possession, he stayed committed to the cause until his passing in 2002. Yours truly once had the opportunity to visit him on his bus — I was working for Capitol Records, which represented his wife, the aforementioned Ms. Colter, at the time, giving  us reason for the rendezvous — and it was apparent he was nervous and paranoid in the wake of a recent bust. 

That uncertainty is nowhere to be seen on The Outlaw Performance, a 16 song set taken from a 1978 private performance in Nashville at the height of his prowess. Not surprisingly, it comprises a good percentage of his signature songs — “Are You Ready for the Country?,” Lonesome On’ry and Mean,” Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” Luckenbach Texas,” Good Hearted Woman,” and “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” — each relayed with energy, enthusiasm and a crack band that keeps the arrangements solidly in sync with the recorded versions. Two versions of the concert are included here — one of which is focused solely on the songs and the other with Waylon’s own commentary synched over each offering. The latter comes across like a documentary of sorts, with the singer reminiscing about his origins, meeting his wife, the stories behind the songs, breaking through the barriers established by the music industry, and the time spent in the company of Buddy Holly, who gave Jennings his first steady gig as a member of his backing band. Fortunately, his narrative doesn’t detract from the music, but for those who prefer to watch it sans the voice-over, it’s available as a straight performance as well. Either way, there’s little in terms of flash or frenzy, save the flashing lights of his familiar winged Waylon logo.

Bowing to his lingering legacy, The Outlaw Performance also includes a bonus feature in the form of filmed reflections and recollections revolving around Waylon from friends and associates such as George Jones, Johnny Cash and a very youthful-looking Willie Nelson. In essence, no more embellishment is needed. Waylon’s gruff determination speaks for itself.

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