11 February 2011

"The Music Inside," Volume I by Various Artists

The Music Inside: A Collaboration Dedicated to Waylon Jennings, Volume I
Various Artists
Released: 8 February 2011
List Price: $10.99

There've been other tribute albums to Waylon, "but this one has been a true passion project for a lot of artists and friends who truly wanted to remember and give back to the wonderful man he was" says Shooter Jennings in his liner notes.  I'm still not sure what actually distinguishes this tribute album (and the two volumes due to follow later this year) from previous tribute albums.  Regardless, as a fan I'm always up for more Waylon and Ol' Hoss himself appears on a previously unreleased track so I knew I was going to buy this.

Cover songs are always tricky; an artist who hews too closely to the original recording begs the question, "Why bother?" while too radical a deviation can invite scorn from critics and fans who feel you should just leave well enough alone.  I personally think that the artists most likely to succeed with covers are the ones who don't generally write their own material; they're in the habit of singing the words of others already.  That said, the standout for me on this release is the song that opens it, Jamey Johnson's cover of Waylon's first #1 hit, "This Time."

For the last few years, I've had Johnson thrown in my face whenever it comes out that I'm not terribly interested in a lot of the newer country artists.  The Bearded One may be a fine artist and songwriter, but I just feel like he's being practically forced upon us Outlaw fans.  My misgivings about the guy aside, he turns in a fine performance sounding every bit as weary--and wary--as Waylon's lyrics.  Not that it matters, but "This Time" was also covered by Andy Griggs on 2003's I've Always Been Crazy: A Tribute to Waylon Jennings.  I like both, but I think I favor Johnson's by a hair.

Another fine performance that plays it straight is Trace Adkins's version of "You Asked Me To."  Interestingly, the song was covered on both 2003 albums by women; Nanci Griffith on Lonesome, On'ry and Mean and Alison Krauss on I've Always Been Crazy.  Between the three, I think I like Krauss's best but then I'm partial to her voice.  Speaking of women, Sunny Sweeney is joined by Jessi Colter on "Good Hearted Woman."  It's strange, but it works.

Some of the arrangements are curious.  I love the bluesy instrumentation on Randy Houser's version of "I'm a Ramblin' Man" but his vocals are so slow that they become tiresome.  This isn't ramblin' as in "frequent traveler," but rather ramblin' as in, "moving along for the sake of moving and not actually going anywhere."  Shooter Jennings takes "Belle of the Ball" (an album cut from 1977's Ol' Waylon that was the B-side to "Luckenbach, Texas") and brings it to a slow crawl, but here the song simmers rather than meanders; if you're going to slow down Waylon, this is how you do it.

James Otto's fun take on "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out of Hand" has energy, but I confess I favor James Hetfield's version from the aforementioned I've Always Been Crazy tribute album.  John Hiatt gives us a solid reading of "Just to Satisfy You," a song not chosen on either of the 2003 tribute albums.  Waylon's vocals appear near the end, just as Willie once added his vocals to Waylon's re-recording on his 1982 album, Black on Black.

Kris Kristofferson (who performed "I Do Believe" for Lonesome, On'ry and Mean) is joined by Patty Griffin on a cover of "Rose in Paradise," Waylon's final #1 hit from 1985.  Of all the recordings here, this is the one that I think could stand on its own.  Being a duet introduces a new dynamic to the song, and neither Kristofferson nor Griffin is an imitator; they make the song their own.  Chanel Campell likewise has a unique take on "The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don't Want to Get Over You)."  I'm still not sure what I think of it, but I can't deny that she doesn't sound like anyone else I've heard cover it.  I think I'm still partial to Norah Jones's version from Lonesome, though.

The tenth track is Waylon himself, on "Go Down Rockin'," a song he performed in 2000 for his Never Say Die: Live - The Final Concert Film.  Waylon's vocals were recorded in 2000 and the music was added in 2009, in much the same way that the songs on Waylon Forever were produced.  It may not be mandatory for your Waylon library, but it's certainly a welcome addition.

There's a four minute video preview for a documentary, Breaking the Myth - Waylon Jennings that will be released later this year.  I tried to follow the link to purchase the documentary, but it wasn't active yet so I can't say anything further right now about that.  The next two volumes in this series will feature artists such as Hank Williams, Jr., Dierks Bentley and Jewel.  I'm looking forward to hearing their take on Waylon's music.

Oh!  I almost forgot entirely about Alabama's take on "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way," which is the lead single from this album (it has a music video and everything!).  It's recognizable more to me as an Alabama recording than as a Waylon Jennings song.  That's not a knock on Alabama, whom I enjoy and appreciate.  The reason I almost overlooked it is that I ripped the CD so I could play it on my iPod (I rarely actually put CDs in a CD player, except in the car).  For some reason, when I try to play that song, it freezes and shuts down my iPod.  I've tried re-ripping it, but to no avail.  It's the most peculiar problem I've had yet with my iPod.

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