Lonesome, Onry, and Mean: A Tribute to Waylon Jennings – various
Dualtone Records 80302-01137-2
When I think of Waylon Jennings, I think of the General Lee squirreling
through another hairpin country turn. Other less blatantly commercial images
come rushing forth, those of black leather, a "fuck Nashville" attitude, and
the Texas flag. Probably like the majority of the population.
In describing Jennings, one single term has been repeated with relatively
little thought: outlaw. If Jennings remained true to his persona, he
probably didn't care what moniker people selected. He likely saw it as
another part of the game. Certainly something in his off-the-hip swagger,
his insouciance regarding the socially accepted, and well documented revolt
against the glossy Nashville money raking train, speaks of Jesse James.
Running through the desert, with no recourse for those behind, but always
eyeballing the future, patently fits Jennings' outward persona, or at least
what the public generally saw of Waylon.
Looking at his music, however, his whole musical life rarely fits into this
disyllabic term. The word and its subsequent synonyms have often pigeonholed
Jennings, obscuring his true talent. The majority of his songs showcased
plaintive lyrics filled with introspection and longing which were further
augmented by poignant melodies. He could run the gamut of emotions and play
different parts to imbue his work with sincerity.
Arguably, such complexity engenders Jennings' music to the sweeping format
of a tribute album, where different voices can accentuate certain latent (or
long forgotten?) qualities. On Lonesome, Onry and Mean, for example,
Norah Jones and Allison Moorer cover the long ignored emotional side of
Jennings. Moorer's "Storms Never Last" (from the Jessi songbook) is sader
than Jennings and Jessi ever achieved. Norah Jones' haunting reading of
"Wurlitzer Prize" calls to mind a smoky bar rather than the Texas heat. Even
the somewhat uninspiring performance of "Amanda" by Dave Alvin makes the
same point. Jennings was in no way a mere one trick pony.
Guy Clark's presence offers some much-needed realism, while also imbuing the
release with an obligatory true Texas reference. As a drinking partner and
song-scribing compatriot of Jennings, Clark may be the only person to truly
understand Jennings. His performance of "Good Hearted Woman" lets us realize
that the song can mean more than an opportunity for mere hell-raising and
drunken shouts. More importantly, Clark exposes how, even in his most overt
"outlaw" moments, Jennings wrote songs that could have more depth when
performed with or by a different voice.
But, in the end, Henry Rollins' inclusion becomes the most important in
offering a reinterpretation of Jennings' standard public perception.
Jennings was an uncompromising individual. He refused to accept anything not
on his own terms. He desired to play music his way and to live for himself,
not for any one industry. With his psycho-metal-country, Rollins reveals the
side of Jennings too many critics misinterpreted, got wrong, or
over-simplified for simplicity's sake.
In spite of the myriad artists, interpretations, and re-examinations on
Lonesome, Onry and Mean the true nature of Jennings remains obscured
from full view. Jennings was one of the "hyphenated," but not one of Steve
Earle's singer-songwriter types. Maybe Jennings embodied another hyphenated
realm, the "singer-method actor." But then such a description still doesn't
fit Jennings; no surprise there.