In the wake of the fifth anniversary of Jennings' passing (and the 70th anniversary of his birth), a number of archival sets have recently hit the shelves. First out was the magnificent four-CD, multi-label spanning "Nashville Rebel" box set. This was quickly followed by a fascinating video compilation under the same title. Now up are a pair of new projects, the triple-disc "Never Say Die: The Final Concert Film" collection and this 42-track two-CD compilation.
As has been pointed out for similar single- and double-disc set, there's just not enough space on a couple of discs to capture every track that every fan feels is essential. nor paint a detailed portrait of Jennings lengthy recording career. The best that can be expected is to hit the highlights and hits, and flesh out some of the shadows with select album cuts. Further, these sets aren't meant to break new ground or provide previously unreleased tidbits for collectors. They're perennials used to renew shelf space and retail interest, giving a legendary catalog a chance at an end-cap at Target or Walmart. This is a meat-and-potatoes overview of Jennings career, focusing heavily on his most productive years at RCA, with a peek at his pre-RCA work ("Big Mamou"), and his last #1 single ("Rose in Paradise") recorded for MCA.
The story arc of this set is familiar to anyone knowledgeable of Jennings' career. Gaining a rock 'n' roll edge as one of Buddy Holly's last Crickets (and narrowly avoiding the plane crash that took his mentor), Jennings developed his style at J.D. Musil's nightclub in Phoenix and recorded his own album for sale at live shows (see Hip-O's "Phase One: The Early Years 1959-1964" for more of this early material). Upon signing with RCA he found himself marketed as "Folk Country," but neither his label nor producer Chet Atkins could restrain Jennings' unique charms. Despite the soft edges of the Nashville Sound, ballads like "The Chokin' Kind" cut through the cooing background vocals with Jennings' emotion soaked vocals. Signature tunes like "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line," employ twangy guitars that simply push Atkins' conventions out the door.
Jennings won his independence from Nashville's factory-like production techniques in 1972 and began recording with his own road band. He produced himself and held sessions in non-RCA and non-Nashville sessions. He further stretched his independence by championing a new generation of songwriters, including Kris Kristofferson, Gordon Lightfoot, Rodney Crowell, and most notably, Billy Joe Shaver, and began writing a larger helping of his own material. His self-containment and self-direction was unique to hit-making commercial country music -redefining the mainstream to fit him, rather than fitting himself into the extant mainstream.
Included among the 42 tracks are a dozen country #1s and fourteen more Top 10s. This set overlaps with 28 tracks on 2001's "Country Legends" set, and with 19 tracks on 1993's "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line." Many core tunes can be found on all three collections, but key titles and fan-favorites are particular to one or two. For instance, this Essential title includes the early country-folk "That's the Chance I'll Have to Take," the pre-outlaw "Ladies Love Outlaws", and Jennings final #1, "Rose in Paradise," none of which turn up on the other two collections. On the other hand, this set omits excellent covers of "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," "Lucille," and "T For Texas," and originals like "Shine" and "Never Could Toe the Mark." This set, along with "Country Legends" includes the rarer studio version of "Bob Wills is Still the King"; the live version can be found on the 1993 set.
One could argue that less famous tracks should have been dropped in favor of those with more popular acclaim, but this would only satisfy a listener's sweet tooth. Jennings catalog is filled with lesser hits and album tracks that are important elements of his overall development, and condensing such an extensive recorded history to two discs is bound to leave out some desired recordings. Expanding to more discs, such as on the "Nashville Rebel" set, is one solution. Even better is to pick up this set (or the single-disc "Essential Waylon Jennings") as an introduction, and then augment your collection with individual album reissues from your favorite periods of Jennings career. [©2007 hyperbolium dot com]