A follow-up effort to 1979's White Mansions -- which was also composed by Paul Kennerley and produced by Glyn Johns -- Legend of Jesse James was actually a more sophisticated production, with an equally impressive cast of participants, including Levon Helm, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Charlie Daniels, and Albert Lee, with Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell. The album, of course, tells the tale of the post-Civil War outlaw, with the participants singing material representing various roles out of history and legend, Helm taking the part of Jesse and Cash as his brother Frank. Unlike White Mansions, which had a raw edge to a lot of its content, the material here is rather more sophisticated, in both its arrangements and the approach taken by the performers -- perhaps Kennerley and Johns decided to try for something slightly different on this, their second concept album, or Kennerley's reach naturally extended with his greater experience. But whatever the reason, the production here is gorgeous, and the sounds here -- a little more country-pop than what was heard on White Mansions -- are surprisingly sweet and memorable, ranging across folk, mountain ballads, authentic 19th century popular music, and the best of modern country ballad sounds (circa 1980). None of it is too slick, and the playing is as impressive as the music. The participants all give this some of their best efforts, and the whole record -- which might well be regarded as a cast album without a stage production to go with it -- ends up pretty compelling. Alas, while White Mansions was reissued as a free-standing CD at one point, the only way to get Legend of Jesse James is to get the double-CD set that pairs it with White Mansions, but the investment in the latter is well worth it.
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AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder