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Music Review: Waylon Jennings – Waylon/Singer Of Sad Songs

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Waylon Jennings released ten studio albums for the RCA label between 1966 and 1969, wherein he was more or less forced to conform to the wishes and styles of the label’s vision of traditional country music. His producer, Chet Atkins, was a country legend and ruled the studio with an iron hand. Despite these limitations he had become a country superstar as his albums sold millions of copies and over a dozen singles reached the national country charts.

1970 was a big year for Waylon Jennings. The A&M label put together an album of his early singles and some unreleased tracks; RCA released a Best Of album; and six new recordings were issued on the Ned Kelly soundtrack. He even found the time to produce an album for his wife, Jessi Colter. This would have been a full year for almost anyone but Jennings still found the time to record and release two studio albums—and change was in the air.

Waylon and Singer Of Sad Songs began the transition away from his traditional country roots and set him on the road to the tough-edged outlaw style which he would help to establish and refine for the rest of his career. Collector’s Choice has now combined these two albums onto one CD. The sound has been cleaned and an excellent booklet is included which provides a history of each of the two releases.

Waylon allowed him to escape the shadow of Chet Atkins who was making a return to being a full-time performer. New producer Danny Davis was also very traditional but Jennings was able to challenge him in the studio and ultimately exert some control over his sound and style. His cover of Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” wound up a huge country hit and pointed to his future as he fused elements of country and rock. Mickey Newbury’s “The Thirty Third Of August” marked another departure from traditional country for Jennings, placing him squarely in the counterculture of the early seventies. Other highlights include “I May Never Pass This Way Again,” “When Love Has Died,’ and his own “Yellow Haired Woman.”

He traveled to California and into the arms of producer Lee Hazelwood for Singer Of Sad Songs. Except for the title track the album was recorded in three days which gave it an overall cohesiveness. Randy Meisner and New Riders Of The Purple Sage members Allen Kemp and Patrick Shanahan were very different from the house musicians which adorned his previous work and helped Jennings move in a different direction. He cleverly countrified Chris Kenner’s New Orleans rocker “Sick And Tired.” “If I Were A Carpenter,” by Tim Hardin, and “No Regrets,” by Tom Rush, were folk songs of the day and gave the album a modern, hip feel.

Waylon/Singer Of Sad Songs is the music that set the stage for some of the most influential country albums in history which would soon follow. These long-out-of-print releases make a fine addition to any country music collection.

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