Waylon, Willie, Cash and Kristofferson met for this third and final collaboration in 1995, and given their proven chemistry, the presence of producer Don Was, and an outstanding selection of material, this should have been the supergroup's ultimate statement. Unfortunately, Was mired the group in modern arrangements that are at odds with the foursome's aging, world-weary vocals, and the entire album seems to have become dated in the intervening decade.
The material typically outshines the performances, with contemporary Texas classics from Earle, Shaver and Keen failing to find compelling new presentations here. Where the artists really connect is on their own new compositions, including Jennings' gruff balance of faith, responsibility and self-determination, "I Do Believe," Cash's florid story-song of a visit with a New Orleans' prostitute, "Death and Hell" and Kristofferson's sublimely crusty "Here Comes That Rainbow Again."
This 10th-anniversary reissue's must-buy value are the 5 acoustic demo bonus tracks. Listening to the legends audition songs for their compadr+s gives one an inkling of what this album could have been. "Live Forever" finds Cash tapping his foot as Nelson picks along to find his part, and Jennings' "I Ain't Song" is interrupted by Kristofferson's gut-busting laugh as the former sing-speaks "I ain't old and I ain't bitter, and I ain't mad at anyone." Kristofferson bangs out "Closer to the Bone" on his guitar as Cash's baritone resonates underneath, and Nelson turns "Pick up the Tempo" into a singalong. There's magic in these interpersonal relationships. It just didn't make it to studio tape.