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Waylon Jennings

Goin' Down Rockin - The Final Recordings – 2012 (Saguaro)

Reviewed by Ken Burke

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CDs by Waylon Jennings

The title of this posthumously released 12-song set would suggest that Waylon Jennings let out one last howl of fury and rebellion before he passed away in early 2002. In actuality, these recordings feature the famed country music outlaw in a more sober and reflective mood. Whether writing fresh tunes for the occasion or drawing on underappreciated songs from his past, Jennings seems to be summing up the issues of his life before chucking it all in.

Recently overdubbed by producer/multi-instrumentalist Robby Turner, some tracks work, and some don't. The defiant southern rocker Never Say Die displays instrumental verve that matches that singer's honky tonk drive. Further, a dreamy, somewhat surreal musical segue imaginatively transforms The Ways of the World from a simple ballad of regret into a philosophical daydream. On the down side, the messy arrangement of the Cajun-flavored The Wrong Road to Nashville makes the artist sound out-of-place on his own recording.

Production choices aside, the attraction here is Jennings and how much he had left to say. On that score, the album does not disappoint. Unlike those of his former roommate Johnny Cash, Jennings' last sides prove the singer retained his expressive folk baritone until the very end. Nor did he lose his desire to communicate. Alternating between denial, acceptance and resignation, he addresses his spiritual beliefs in the contradictory I Do Believe, expresses the need to reconnect one last time with Friends in California, craves the open road If My Harley Was Running and expresses lingering romantic bitterness in She Was No Good for Me. Further, Jennings - ever the music industry critic - offers up Sad Songs and Waltzes, an ironic realization that his best efforts could no longer find a place on the airwaves.

Often too understated to be truly defiant, the set drips with mortality and pain occasionally leavened with shots of wry, gentle humor. Indeed, to hear the late superstar proclaim, "If I ain't goin' down rockin', I ain't goin' down at all," is the sonic equivalent of listening to a man bluff the grim reaper and nearly getting away with it.