CD Review of Never Say Die by Waylon Jennings

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Never Say Die
starstarhalf starno starno star Label: RCA
Released: 2007
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In 2000, two years before his body finally gave out, Waylon Jennings was pretty sick. The good ole boy, like it says in his “Dukes of Hazzard” theme, had gotten in trouble with the law, with diabetes, and through some pretty fast living during his 1970s and '80s peak. He and his posse reaped the fame and other fringe benefits of the outlaw persona--such as federal arrests for cocaine possession and felony tax evasion.

This concert, previously released as a single CD, captures Waylon live in Nashville in 2000. It was probably best left in that state, edited down. The Waymore Blues Band was freaking tight, complete with a sharp horn section. Killer guests like John Anderson, Travis Tritt, and of course Jennings' wife Jessi Coulter grace the stage. The DVD's a slick, well-produced show, with great camera angles showcasing a tastefully lit stage. And there's where the problem starts: Waylon, like Pete "I hope I die before I get old" Townshend, is best remembered in an earlier incarnation. Here, we've got him slowing down what could have been smoking tunes, making jokes about picking up girls as a "cripple," and assuring the crowd that he can still kick ass, "you just gotta bring 'em up here!" because his mobility wasn't quite what it used to be. It's all tongue-in-cheek, and his basso voice still sounds rich and strong, but hey, if we're going to eulogize the black-hatted, sleeveless denim-shirt-wearing crooner who turned Nashville on its ear, let's haul out some footage from when he was 25 years younger and even more pissed off at the world. (Supposedly he went to his grave holding grudges against some in the Nashville establishment, but it was worse in the 1970s.) Not like he was here, trying to stand tall and be the tough guy, best he could, unable to stand and seated on a chair.

Interesting moments save the show from becoming tedious. After all, if Waylon was nothing else, he was a consummate entertainer. A previously unreleased live version of "The World's Gone Crazy (Cotillion)," a hilarious song Jennings co-wrote with Shel Silverstein, finds him bringing in two pianists to ham it up and turn the dignified Nashville Ryman Auditorium into a stoner carousel. There's "Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys," in which Waylon sings his part and fills in Willie Nelson's parts with a pretty fair impression. That much was on the original CD. Live on the DVD, it's five times cooler, showing how Waylon covered half his nose with his finger to get the nasal Willie voice, scrunches up his face and tilts it aside just like his outlaw pal, grinning the whole time.

In the end comes the big finale, the previously unreleased rendition of The Band's "The Weight," which any self-respecting ensemble with any experience--and good backup singers--can't screw up. This group positively cooks in this track, and it's rightfully the jewel of the box. There's just not a lot in between these high points, save the guest spots and a few poignant solos. Pure and simple, this set's for the Waylon nostalgics, the kind of people who might shed a tear hearing the late outlaw sing "Never Say Die" or "Going Down Rockin'." The rest of us shouldn't feel bad about spending our hard-earned country-music budgets on something else.

~Mojo Flucke, PhD