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Waylon Jennings

Phase One: The Early Years 1958-1964 – 2002 (Hip-O/Universal)

Reviewed by Eli Messinger

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CDs by Waylon Jennings

Much is made Jennings' early '70s escape from the clutches of RCA's staff players and producers. Much less is said about his pre-RCA material, recorded in the wake of his association with Buddy Holly. Jennings' first single, "Jole Blon" b/w "When Sin Stops," was produced by Holly, and though the sax dominated arrangements (courtesy of King Curtis) are clearly not the singer's forte, the rock 'n' roll rebelliousness would serve with him throughout his career.

The remaining 18 tracks are gathered from brief stops at Brunswick, Vocalion, Trend and A&M. Covers of Holly's "It's So Easy" and "Rave On" (complete with mariachi horns from Herb Alpert!) and Roy Orbison's "Crying" and "Dream Baby," find Jennings searching for artistic direction. The maudlin tribute, "The Stage (Stars in Heaven)" recounts the night the music lived for the very last time.

More fitting are Ian Tyson's "Four Strong Winds," Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alight," and the lone original, an early version of "Just to Satisfy You." Each song matches Jennings voice beautifully, and points to his "folk-country" work at RCA. Covers of Buck Owens ("Love's Gonna Live Here Again"), Harlan Howard ("Sally Was a Good Old Girl") and the Big Bopper ("White Lightnin'") pack a healthy dose of twangy Telecaster.

Jennings' distinctive baritone and eclectic song mix are present on this grab bag of his earliest tracks, but they've yet to form a coherent whole. This peek at the formative years provides valuable context for Jennings' eventual success.