The Highwaymen

Country: The Highwaymen

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It seems that Sony BMG's Country series is designed to provide a well-rounded introduction to noteworthy artists from the genre who've had not merely successful careers, but exemplary ones. In some cases, these volumes represent the truly iconic. Such is the case with this set by the Highwaymen -- Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson -- each man a legend in his own right. Together, they were country music's Traveling Wilburys. Shockingly, during their nine-year run, they recorded only three studio albums and a live record. This volume compiles the best tracks from their first two albums, which is only fitting, since the last one was recorded for Capitol. There are many compilations out from this supergroup already -- who were not, despite their pedigree, flawless -- but this one is the best of the best. Simply put, it offers a selection of tracks that reveals the depth of both the group's individual members, and their forbidding temerity as a unit. Take a listen to their reading of Bob Seger's "Against the Wind," which gets to the grain of the author's narrative without the the Eagles' slick backing vocals to offset the poignancy in the lyric (instead, there is a gospel choir in the backdrop, underscoring the feeling of mortality in the lyric). These men were already grizzled warriors when they recorded this; every mile, hotel room, and regret is borne in the grain of their voices. Likewise, Guy Clark's "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train," which despite its more polished production, carries within it a certain world-weariness that is unequivocal -- it's not better than Clark's own version, but it's a fine one that has Kristofferson delivering one of the best vocals of his career. The group's signature tune, Jimmy Webb's "Highwayman," is full of drama and cinematic elegance. Likewise Lee Clayton's "Silver Stallion." This doesn't take anything away from the fine originals on offer here, either: Kristofferson's "Living legend," Jennings' "Angels Love Bad Men," and Cash's "Songs That Make a Difference." For the price point, this is indeed the Highwaymen best-of.

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