Sticking to totally musical criteria, the best tracks on this collection are so good that dismissing the gunky ones is easy. There are other criteria for rating a Waylon Jennings album but, however one looks at it, Hangin' On is one of this country artist's very special productions. Some might see distinction in the fact that the brief liner notes are written by none other than the wonderful singer Skeeter Davis. Others may treasure this particular album because it really looks like ol' Waylon is lighting up a joint on the front cover. Then, there is the ultimate criterion for judging the value of an album not only by Jennings, but by some of his associates such as Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson, at least in the eyes of a used record store buyer from North Carolina: "If they's wearin' beards, I don't want it. If they's shaven, then ah'm interested." While many publications use some sort of star system for rating records, it appears a system based on lack of beards is really the key with some types of country music. In this case, the clean-shaven Jennings was still a few years from the rumbling of heavily rock-influenced music that he would create in the '70s, but had already been pushing at country music's perceived boundaries since the middle of the decade. Considering that his groups featuring two drummers would eventually play as loud as the Rolling Stones, the fact that an acoustic dobro can practically drown out the whole band here is a pretty good indication of how relatively soft, even pretty, the music on this album is. But closer listening reveals that the dobro is being turned up really loud for certain effects, just one of many intricate touches that make certain cuts on this record absolute marvels of country music.
The premier track is "I Fall in Love So Easy," which weaves together three completely different sections -- and these sections are varied in tempo, in how they are mixed, and in the feeling with which they are played. Subtle use is made of brass, sometimes in written passages in combination with harmonica. There was a lot of work put into this, producing the kind of good feeling one gets from a fine chamber group when it is really playing well. There are also a couple of tracks that clunk, one of which might be the Roy Orbison cover, no matter how well it is sung. This type of submissive personality is not the best character for Jennings to act out in a song. He does much better with the threatening slob who sings "Woman, Don't You Ever Laugh at Me" or, even better, the depressed psycho who destroyed himself over unrequited love for "Julie." A check of the songwriting credits reveals, to no surprise, that it is Jennings who wrote the latter ballad. It is one of his best originals. Those who find the John Hartford song "Gentle on My Mind" heavy trodding will need to soak their feet after listening to this album; if a cover version of the song isn't bad enough, a few minutes later a cheap imitation with similar minor chords burps up. Jennings' backup band, the Waylors, actually plays on a few tracks here, a hard-fought compromise with RCA producer Chet Atkins, who wanted his own session crew to provide backup. There are no further musical credits, and no information about who thought up the wonderful parts of this album. Call it a brilliant collaboration of Jennings and Atkins at the dawn of a new era in country music.