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Various Artists

Lonesome, On'ry and Mean: A Tribute to Waylon Jennings – 2003 (Dualtone)

Reviewed by Jon Johnson

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Tribute albums are usually hit-and-miss affairs at best, but this Waylon Jennings tribute - compiled by Dave Roe and BR549's Chuck Mead - is one of the year's most pleasant surprises so far. Nearly all of the pairings of artist and song are inspired choices. And some are very wry choices, as well; evidenced by the pairing of tabloid fave Carlene Carter with "I've Always Been Crazy." Or ex-Black Flag singer Henry Rollins and his Nick-Cave-goes-psychobilly rendition of the album's title track.

As is usually the case with these affairs, the songs veer wildly between near-perfect copies of the original versions and imaginative recastings of the material. Of the former category, the one-two punch of John Doe's "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line" and Junior Brown's "Nashville Rebel" (which practically sounds like an alternate take of Waylon's original recording) are perhaps best described as reverential, faithful versions which will please those who prefer to hear Waylon Jennings songs sound like Waylon Jennings songs. Ditto Radney Foster's "Luckenbach, Texas."

As for those who take chances with the material, 2002 It Girl Norah Jones turns "Wurlitzer Prize" into a jazzy torch song that wouldn't have sounded out of place on an early Tom Waits album.

Most fascinating, though, is Robert Earl Keen's version of "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way"; all power chords and tribal drums. Don't know about Hank, but you can be pretty sure Waylon didn't do it this way.