Hard thumpin' country rock and gentle folk pop are brought into play on this multi-artist tribute to the late Waylon Jennings. Bolstered by a consistent production approach and sympathetic contemporary stars, this 11-song collection provides an amusing, spirited update even when some of the guest artists can't quite thrive to the original sound.
Jennings, whose best work incorporated an expressive country baritone with a sense of folk righteousness, enjoyed a bit of a reputation as a truth-teller. Hoping to recreate (or at least echo) some of that attitude, co-producer Witt Stewart's studio crew apes pieces of Jennings sound, i.e. the kick drum, the twangy Telecaster and steel. The result is a Waylonesque atmosphere in which the enlisted performers can either sink or swim.
On the downside. Colt Ford's growling narrative version of Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line, Montgomery Gentry's rendition of the Dukes of Hazzard TV theme Good Ol' Boys, Josh Thompson's pallid take on Love of the Common People and Jack Ingram's Hammond organ soaked Bob Wills is Still the King all lack Jennings easy folk irony. By contrast, pop singer turned country chanteuse Jewel turns in a version of Dreaming My Dreams of You sung so prettily that it drains away all of the original's underlying romantic longing.
Better are the tracks that summon something akin to Waylon's moral authority. Rising superstar Dierks Bentley employs a touch of the Allman Brothers in a solid remake of Lonesome, On'ry and Mean. Pat Green revels in the strongly executed fiddle and steel-drenched Rainy Day Woman. Jennings' widow, Jessi Colter, is in fine voice for the somewhat preachy Mama, and Wyatt McCubban stomps stylishly through the biographical lyrics of A Long Time Ago.
However, the most resonant moment on the set comes from Jennings' pal Hank Williams Jr., whose bottleneck blues version of Waymore's Blues capitalizes on the smart-ass redneck persona that both men used to such great effect during the original Outlaw Movement. As the studio musicians jam out solos, Williams exclaims, "What a band!" He's right, but nearly every tribute project of this type is dogged by the suspicion that none of the remakes can neither top, nor approach, the sonic truth of the originals. Yet, this well-meaning collection is executed with skill and occasionally sounds inspired as it reminds modern listeners just who Waylon Jennings was.