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Various Artists

Waylon Jennings: The Red River Tribute – 2004 (Underground Sound)

Reviewed by Eli Messinger

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By situating their two-day benefit in a Texas dancehall and favoring regional acts known more for their touring than their national fame, the producers neatly conjure Waylon Jennings' independent road-tested ethos. Doug Morland kicks off the double-CD on a perfect note, testily re-starting "If I Can Find a Clean Shirt" after flubbing the lyrics. Dub Miller follows with a stunning take of the folk-country "Just to Satisfy You," ripping into the rhythm guitar and prying the song loose of Jennings' original.

Over 2 full days, 30 bands each played a 15-minute set, each highlighted by a pair of Jennings songs. The results animate both the artists and the crowd and speak to Jennings' spark on-going legacy in the honky tonks and clubs of country music America. Jennings' bluesy side is heard in Ray Wylie Hubbard's swampy "Waymore's Blues," and Wade Bowen offers a powerful, southern rock flavored take on "You Asked Me To." Lighter moments, such as Eleven Hundred Springs' sweetly melancholic "Omaha" and Django and Jerry Jeff Walker's folksy "Luckenbach, TX" add fine balance to the show.

Like many such anthologies, a few of the tracks follow too closely or innovate so widely as to lose their anchor, but unlike the earlier star-heavy studio tributes, this one's live setting maintains the subject's spirit throughout. Jennings' connection with his audience, both as a singer and a songwriter, is strong here, and though it was a blue day when he passed, his contribution clearly lives on.