Agony Shorthand

Wednesday, March 17, 2004
OVERRATED : WAYLON JENNINGS….Haven’t done an “overrated” post in a while, and not once on a “country music legend”. WAYLON JENNINGS? Hey, all I knew about the guy were a couple of his dumber hits like “Theme From The Dukes of Hazzard (Good ‘Ol Boys)”, that he was a rootin-tootin’ Texas “outlaw” who hung with Willie Nelson, and the fact that he gave up his propeller plane seat for either Buddy Holly or The Big Bopper and therefore saved his own life. But in my effort to slowly but surely unravel the true history of genius country music, and place the pioneers and key players in their respective places in my mental hot-or-not list, I roasted up a CD called “The Essential Waylon Jennings“ from a friend. I had hoped it would render a barstool revelation on par with my big 2003 discovery, JOHNNY PAYCHECK. Au contraire!

Waylon Jennings’ “essential” tracks really boil down to a tiny handful of decent, countypolitan-style 1960s weepers, and a whole bunch of pseudo-redneck, middle of the road lite pop music. I’ll take “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” and “Waymore’s Blues”, both interesting enough, but the rest – jesus – it’s really weak, to my surprise. Not only does Jennings not possess the sort of endearing, worn but wry & heartbreaking vocals of seen-it-all peers like Paycheck, GEORGE JONES & MERLE HAGGARD, he obviously sold out to Nashville hit-making orthodoxy earlier and more often than any of those guys. Ironically, in the song “Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way”, Jennings appears to decry the very country-meets-pop pablum he’s dishing out in spades – or rather, is the song a clever self-loathing indictment of his own music? That, at least, would be kinda cool. Worse, and I hate to be such a meanie, but the duets with JESSIE COLTER are just drowning in stunning mediocrity – her voice is one step above Sueleen Gay’s in “Nashville”, and I guess I understand now why she’s regarded as some sort of 1970s anachronism rather than an angelic songstress on par with the holy trinity of Loretta, Tammy and Dolly. I thought that Waylon Jennings was going to be this grizzled whiskey rebel, pumping out twanging anthems of drinking and divorce. Instead, I see that he’s a forebear for the lame FM Radio “hot” country music that almost killed the genre dead for a while. No wonder the GARTH BROOKS & TIM McGRAWs of the world revere the guy. “Are you sure Hank done it this way?” – amen, brother. WAYLON JENNINGS = Overrated!