Johnny Cash / Waylon Jennings

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Heroes Review

by Bruce Eder

This album comprised the first full-length work by Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings as a duo, though they had previously worked together as part of the Highwaymen, the existence of whose three LPs may account for the relative neglect that Heroes has received. And it is one of the most obscure records in either artist's output, a fact that's astonishing, given the quality of the music, the singing, and the overall production. Co-produced by Chips Moman, and with Cash and Jennings at the top of their game (and so good at what they do that they make it sound easy), there's not a weak point anywhere here. There's almost no original material on this album, which doesn't make it any less personal than something that Cash or Jennings might have composed themselves: they throw themselves into the music and make it their own, with Moman and the other players smoothing out the whole creation. Whether doing ballads, gospel numbers, or novelty tunes -- plus one underrated Bob Dylan tune, "One Too Many Mornings" -- the two singers find a good balance across a landscape that's mostly Western-tinged (if the album's title and cover art weren't a giveaway to the latter, the presence of one-time cowboy star Lash LaRue posed with the two singers in two of the three cover shots makes it kind of obvious). With low-key, spare production even on the most sentimental of the ballads ("Love Is the Way"), the music all flows beautifully and showcases the prodigious vocal talents of the duo; the whole is just a bit bigger than the sum of their parts, as Cash and Jennings make covers of contemporary material sound like it's 100 years old. The highlight of the album is the rendition of Rodney Crowell's "I'm Never Gonna Roam Again," which offers a gorgeous mandolin solo by Marty Stuart (joined by an orchestra that doesn't get in the way of the Stuart's playing), but there's not a song here that isn't worth hearing more than once, and Heroes easily deserves to be re-discovered.

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