(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Three new, very gripping CDs in coming weeks from the Waylon Jennings-Jessi Colter family promise some very satisfying listening. The late Waylon Jennings’ Live From Austin TX CD and DVD are set for release Feb. 21, his wife Jessi Colter’s Out of the Ashes is due Feb. 28 and their son Shooter Jennings’ second release Electric Rodeo is due April 4.
This is a family that is at once as enigmatic as any in music and yet at the same time as musically fertile and diverse as any in country music history. Waylon’s stature has grown since his untimely death in 2002, and there are few country artists — alive or dead — who measure up to him. Jessi has not cut a solo album in 22 years, and I think this one will surprise listeners a great deal. Shooter made a very strong debut CD last year with Put the “O” Back in Country and has clearly matured with Electric Rodeo.
Waylon’s latest is a live show recorded on Austin City Limits and is another in a series of ACL’s impressive releases (other current CDs and simultaneous DVDs include works from Merle Haggard and Tony Joe White). This 17-song set was recorded in Austin in 1989, when Jennings had gotten totally clean from his drug problem and was physically and vocally strong. At his best, no one was more musically authoritative onstage than Waylon at his peak, and he is totally in charge here. Clear-voiced and obviously enjoying the evening with his stellar steel guitar player Ralph Mooney pushing him along, Jennings laid down a set for the ages. Nobody rocks out as hard as Waylon does here on such songs as “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” or sings as tender a ballad as he does with “Amanda.”
I wish this were also available on vinyl. Nothing sounds better to me these days as far as country sound goes than Waylon’s early and mid-1970s albums on vinyl. Say what you will about the clarity of digital recording and CD sound, nothing beats the urgency and range and musical warmth of analog sound on vinyl records.
Jennings duets on two tracks with his wife Jessi Colter — on Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds” and the old Hank Thompson country classic, “The Wild Side of Life,” which evolves into Jessi’s version “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” the woman’s answer song which put Kitty Wells on the musical map.
Colter delves into the blues and soul and gospel sides of country on her new Out of the Ashes very dramatically. She is stepping into her own spotlight, and rightfully so. This is good stuff. The album opens with the moody gospel classic “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” and works through many original Colter songs as well as a surprising take on Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.”
She completes a very effective song from an old tape by husband Waylon with swamp-rock master Tony Joe White on the latter’s composition “Out of the Rain.” New songs, such as “So Many Things,” “Never Got Over You” and “The Canyon,” are very affecting. In “The Canyon” she sings, “Don’t lay your bridle on my shoulder/Don’t bring your bit to my mouth/Don’t lay your blanket on my body/Just take your saddle and move out.” She finishes the CD in a duet with son Shooter on the emotional “Please Carry Me Home.”
Shooter Jennings’ upcoming Electric Rodeo continues and elaborates upon the themes that carried his debut album. Not to give away the thunder of Electric Rodeo, but it’s a more adventurous and at once introspective venture.
Some musical highlights include “Little White Lines,” a cocaine caution tale, and “Aviators,” a steel-guitar drenched tongue-in-cheek weeper.
And Shooter is starting to sound a little more like his daddy in “Some Rowdy Woman” in both lyrics and vocals. And particularly chilling is “Living Proof,” with the lyrics, “You ain’t as good as your daddy, and you never will be.”
This is a family that has carried the tradition of Texas country, West Texas rock ’n’ roll, Western swing and now two generations of Outlaw country music and still makes it all matter.