Lonesome, On’ry and Mean
A Tribute to Waylon Jennings
Waylon Jennings was a punk. I mean that in the best way possible. Much in the same way punk rock artists stripped away all of the pomp and glitz that had infected rock-n-roll, Waylon and his contemporaries kicked the polished rhinestone out of country music in what came to be called the “Outlaw Movement.” Lonesome On’ry and Mean • A Tribute to Waylon Jennings collects 15 of Waylon’s classic songs, recast by a wide range of artists. Less than half of the songs were written by Waylon himself, but all of them had become his by the time he passed away on February 12, 2002.
Several traditional country artists appear on the album, from Guy Clark’s opening track rendition of Waylon and Willie Nelson’s “Good Hearted Woman,” to Cowboy Jack Clement (with a little help from Pam Tillis) singing his own “Let’s All Help the Cowboys (Sing the Blues).” Robert Earl Keen leaves his own unique stamp on Waylon’s manifesto to the Nashville Sound “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” There are also a few surprises, as Norah Jones delivers the most moving song I have heard from her to date with “Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want to Get Over You),” a true country heartache song. Henry Rollins closes out the tribute with a psychobilly rendition of the title track that will serve to either put a smile on your face, or make you turn it off immediately. I think Waylon would have liked that.
In my mind, there is really only one thing missing from this tribute • Willie. When most people my age think of Waylon Jennings, they automatically think of Willie Nelson with him. Several of Waylon’s other longtime friends appear on the tribute, including The Crickets, who Waylon played bass with on tour with Buddy Holly, performing “Waymore’s Blues.” Kris Kristofferson who sang one of Waylon’s last songs “I Do Believe” at his funeral as well as on this tribute was a close friend for over thirty-five years. And, although Willie is present in spirit, both as co-writer of “Good Hearted Woman,” and as mentioned with Waylon in Radney Foster and Roger Creacher’s folksy rendition of “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love),” his lack of performance leaves a hole in this otherwise excellent tribute. Perhaps it was too soon for him to pay tribute to his friend in this way.
Lonesome, On’ry and Mean serves as a fine tribute to this country punk, this rebel who just wanted to play music his way. Not all of the songs are perfect, but Waylon himself would tell you that perfection isn’t what music is all about. If you haven’t heard the originals, then by all means seek them out. But if you know these songs by heart, give the tribute versions a listen and see if anything new jumps out at you.