Waylon Jennings

Black on Black

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Black on Black is the weirdest sounding Waylon Jennings record ever made. Issued in 1982 after the rather uninspired Music Man, the set was produced by Chips Moman, who had worked with Willie Nelson on Always on My Mind. On virtually every track, Jennings' voice seems to come out of a tunnel, someplace out of time and space, as if his ghost were singing these songs. The laid-back angle Jennings was trying to show here is perhaps overwrought, with electric pianos covering for electric guitars on "(We Made It as Lovers) We Just Couldn't Make It as Friends," written by Moman and Bobby Emmons. Jennings also circled his wagons on this set, with Nelson appearing in the fold on yet another recording of Waylon's "Just to Satisfy You," which holds up against the best of them, with Jessi Colter being omnipresent on backing vocals here and everywhere else on this set. And while keyboards dominate on "Shine," it's one of the best songs Jennings wrote in the 1980s and is deeply influenced by the work of J.J. Cale. The funky, uninspired cover of "Folsom Prison Blues" is just filler, whereas Hank Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues" feels more like one of Jennings' more adventurous experiments. Paul Kennerley's "Gonna Write a Letter" is one of the more convincing and beautiful love songs that ol' Waylon delivered between 1975 and the end of his life, as was the Bobby Emmons/Chips Moman ballad "May I Borrow Some Sugar from You." With those electric pianos (two) balanced by acoustic guitars, Waylon's vocal is believable despite its distance from everything in the mix. Rodney Crowell's "Song for the Life" could have been written for Jennings. It's a slow waltz centered around gaining wisdom from a life of folly. The acoustic piano and electric guitar fills, showcased by a gorgeous acoustic solo, would have been a stunning end to this record, but it was not to be -- even if it is the strongest thing here and leaves Crowell's own version in the dust. Emmons' "Get Naked With Me" is a stupid song in the old, tired outlaw frame. Given its presentation as a singalong country song à la Jerry Jeff Walker, it only serves to showcase Jennings' tired voice and the strange textures Moman added to the rather simple songs on this set. Somebody should've released the outtakes before all the warm fuzzy bull was put on the proceedings; it might have made for a much stronger album. Jennings is as inspired as he could be, but Moman ruined this set with his trademark over-production.

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