02 October 2012

"Goin' Down Rockin': The Last Recordings" of Waylon Jennings

Goin' Down Rockin': The Last Recordings
Waylon Jennings
Album Release Date: 25 September 2012
Purchase from Amazon
Purchase from iTunes with exclusive bonus tracks
Purchase from Walmart with exclusive bonus track
Stream from Spotify

Earlier this year, I was ecstatic to learn that this posthumous album was finally going to see the light of day. Since Waylon Jennings died ten years ago (yes, it's really been a decade), a handful of recordings have seen the light of day. "The Dream" concluded a 2003 tribute album, and a different arrangement of "Goin' Down Rockin'" appeared on the first of the three-volume The Music Inside tribute series in 2010.

There was also the Waylon Forever album, which consisted of eight songs for which Waylon had recorded his vocals and left in the hands of his son Shooter to complete at a later date. Shooter eventually brought in his band, The .357s, to back his father's vocals. The arrangements there are busy and heavy, almost as though it was Waylon guesting on a .357s album rather than them supporting him on his. Regardless, it works wonderfully.

Goin' Down Rockin' was conceived in much the same fashion. Waylon recorded his part just prior to his death in 2002, leaving the project in the hands of band mate Robby Turner. Turner joined the band in 1991, succeeding the retired legendary pedal steel player, Ralph Mooney. Here's Turner's explanation of the production of this album in the EPK (Electronic Press Kit):

Waylon sounds terrific here, despite his health troubles. These weren't songs selected out of a grim awareness that his end was near. He was clearly happy to be clean and sober (and, frankly, alive). The arrangements here are much lighter than on Waylon Forever, allowing these songs to breathe. Part of it is that the songs were quite different. "Belle of the Ball," "I Do Believe" and "Sad Songs and Waltzes" call for a much lighter touch than "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean" and "Are You Ready for the Country". Part of it also is that these arrangements were planned out ahead of time by Waylon with Turner.

The song selection here is also a major strength. Seven songs here had not been previously recorded by Waylon on any album. That gives Goin' Down Rockin' a rare personality for such a posthumous album. Never content with past success, Waylon wasn't looking back on his catalog for hits to recycle. He had his eye on something fresher, though some of these songs had already found their way onto various projects.

One of my personal favorite Waylon compositions, "I Do Believe" first appeared on the final Highwaymen album, The Road Goes On Forever, in 1995. "Wastin' Time" appeared on 1996's Right for the Time. "Never Say Die" and "Goin' Down Rockin'" were performed during Waylon's final 2000 concert, recorded for the Never Say Die album (and subsequent DVD). Only "Belle of the Ball" was culled from Waylon's heyday, first appearing as the B-side to the "Luckenbach, Texas" single in 1977.

It's the forward-looking nature of these songs that lets the album live up to its title. Waylon's twilight output bears no aesthetic resemblance at all to Johnny Cash's American Recordings. Where The Man in Black was archiving obscure folk songs alongside stripped down, somber takes on alternative rock tracks, Waylon was still just having fun, and it shows in every song here. Nowhere does that liveliness show more clearly than on the album-closing "Wrong Road to Nashville." Goin' Down Rockin' is exactly the kind of "final" album befitting Waylon Jennings: having a good time today, looking forward to tomorrow.

Note: Walmart has an exclusive bonus track, "Women from Memphis," and iTunes has three bonus tracks (acoustic performances of "Goin' Down Rockin'," "Belle of the Ball," and "If My Harley Was Runnin'"). Links to those versions can be found at the top of this review. At present, the iTunes bonus tracks can be purchased individually.

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