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Music Man / Black On Black

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Album Review

Waylon Jennings' artistic fortunes started to sink in the late '70s, as the heady peak of the outlaw years gave way to the aftermath where the musical and personal excesses started to catch up with him. He was still a star and still making good music (at least on occasion), but things were becoming erratic, as detailed on this two-fer from BMG/Camden Deluxe in the U.K. Neither 1980's Music Man nor Black on Black are considered among his finest works, but they were both big hits, and they play like hit albums — singles, surrounded by filler, including many covers. But, ever restless, Waylon chose good, interesting covers, where even if he did something familiar, it would be delivered in an odd way, such as his take on "Honky Tonk Blues" on Black on Black. But, those would be tempered by a cover of Kenny Rogers' "Sweet Music Man," which kind of gives away the plot — he's still outlaw, but there's a huge sentimental streak sneaking in here that's a little disarming, particularly when it's given a pretty polished production. Production plays a more obvious role on these two records than previous Waylon records — these sound produced, drawing attention to their sound, where his best records, even in the '60s, never sounded constructed; they simply exist. Here, on both records, the production is at the forefront, and it's possible to hear Waylon struggle a bit to keep things interesting. But uneven Waylon albums are still filled with great moments — a good cover of J.J. Cale's "Clyde," followed by a J.J. tribute by Jennings; a surprising cover of Steely Dan's "Do It Again"; "We Made It as Lovers (We Just Couldn't Make It as Friends)"; and of course, "Theme From the Dukes of Hazzard (Good Ol' Boys)," a joke at the time but one that has weathered time to stand as possibly his finest single of the early '80s. These are the reasons why this two-fer isn't just welcome for getting these albums in print in the CD age, it's also welcome in any serious Waylon fan's library.


Born: 15 June 1937 in Littlefield, TX

Genre: Country

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

If any one performer personified the outlaw country movement of the '70s, it was Waylon Jennings. Though he had been a professional musician since the late '50s, it wasn't until the '70s that Waylon, with his imposing baritone and stripped-down, updated honky tonk, became a superstar. Jennings rejected the conventions of Nashville, refusing to record with the industry's legions of studio musicians and insisting that his music never resemble the string-laden, pop-inflected sounds that were coming...
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