Even more than Willie Nelson, the late Waylon Jennings defined the country music "outlaw" mythos. While Nelson was a struggling songwriter, Jennings had a career writing and performing his distinctive mixture of lean Texas honky-tonk, rockabilly, folk, and pop. Long before the Stones or Zeppelin wrecked their first hotel rooms, Jennings grew his hair long and indulged in copious quantities of spirits, brightly colored pills, and extralegal behavior. With his refusal to toe the Music City line, Waylon Jennings was practically the Clash of '60s and '70s country.
By 1998, Jennings' failing health made extensive touring out of the question. But the fire to perform still burned. Recorded and filmed for DVD at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, the double CD/one DVD Never Say Die finds Jennings joined by wife Jessi Colter, progeny Travis Tritt and John Anderson, and a reunited, augmented edition of his backing band the Waylors. A punchy three-piece horn section and Colter's soulful vocals charge the proceedings with plenty of mid- to late-'60s Southern R&B the blistering "Closing in on the Fire" sounds like a gem by Tony Joe White or Etta James. Disc two rocks with fiery versions of the Band's "The Weight" and Dobie Gray's "Drift Away." Never may be light on "greatest hits" but crackles vibrantly throughout Waylon's bear-hug of a baritone convincingly conveying introspection and grit. Rest easy, hoss, you earned it.
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