Ah, the tribute album. It started out as a good ideacurrent artists getting together to salute a classic artist that had a major influence on them. But, then, it spiraled out of control. All of a sudden, everyone had a tribute. In the metal and hard rock world, small record labels sprang up that released nothing but tribute albums, often to bands that had only released a record or two. I remember once stumbling across a tribute to Limp Bizkit on Amazon and just shaking my head in disbelief.
So, yeah, I rarely bother with tribute records anymore. But there was a little something different about The Music Inside: A Collaboration Dedicated to Waylon Jennings, Vol. 1. Namely, Waylon's wife Jessi Colter and son Shooter were intimately involved. I had the feeling it would be done right.
This isn't the first Waylon tribute. In fact, there have been at least two others. Both, as with most tribute albums, were hit and miss. For every highlight, like the punk-thrash version of Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit Has Done Got Out of Hand?" by Metallica's James Hetfield, they also served up Waylon tracks done by the likes of Kenny Chesney and Kid Rock. That's hard for me to take. You see, I'm pretty snobbish when it comes to country music. I don't like most of it, I'm very picky about what I do like, and not much coming out of Nashville these days makes the cut.
Waylon, on the other hand, is probably the truest representation to me of what country music should be. He had, undeniably, one of the best voices to ever come out of the genre. He knew how to get rowdy, but he could also deliver a real tear-jerker. There was an honesty and independence in most everything he did. There are Waylon songs I don't like, but I can't remember ever hearing one that I didn't feel.
That's a lot for the current Nashville regulars to live up to, so it shouldn't come as a great surprise that there aren't many of them on this record. You've got Trace Adkins, whose performance on You Asked Me To" is one of the weakest of the record, and Jamey Johnson, who really fits the Waylon mold more than the current Nashville scene, anyway. But you've also got Kris Kristofferson (how could you have a Waylon tribute without him?), John Hiatt, Alabama and relative unknown Sunny Sweeney.
The album opens, fittingly, with Johnson's faithful version of This Time." It's a little less rocked out than Waylon's, but a strong performance to get things going. Many of the songs here are similar, sticking with the primary thread of the original, but adding a slight touch of the covering artist. Sometimes it works, as on Sweeney and Colter's version of Good-Hearted Woman" or Alabama's Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?" Other times it's less effective, as on James Otto's version of Outlaw Bit," where rocking the song up takes away a little of the necessary grit and grime. In fairness to Otto, though, that is my favorite Waylon song, and Hetfield's cover is the only one I've ever heard that I liked.
One of the strongest tracks comes a little more out of left field. It's surprising that Randy Houser, a purveyor of the current I'm more country than you" laundry list songs, delivers an amazing version of I'm a Ramblin' Man." The version is a slowed-down, soulful, bluesy take on the song. It still follows Waylon's melody, as it has to, but not much else is the same. It's awesome, though.
Shooter strips down one of his dad's most poignant songs, delivering a quiet, piano-driven version of Belle of the Ball," a song that's been a staple in the younger Jennings' live show for a while. It's Shooter's favorite Waylon song, and you can feel that in the performance.
Hiatt's smoky version of Just to Satisfy You" is another highlight, featuring some of Waylon's original vocals toward the end of the song. And it should go without saying that Kristofferson's contribution, Rose in Paradise," a duet with Patti Griffin, is outstanding.
Rounding out the album highlights is Go Down Rockin,'" a song by Waylon himself, which walks on the rowdy side of his sound.
The title of this record would indicate that there's a Volume 2 on the way. I certainly hope so. The Music Inside is that rare tribute album that was worth the effort. It's clear that it was done with love and respect, rather than the desire to cash in, and I'd like to hear what else this project might have to offer.