Though he arrived in Nashville during a different time period with the rest of the "new traditionalists," Mark Chesnutt was always a breed apart. His time with the majors netted him some hits, but he hasn't been recording for the biggies for eight years now. His independent records have been consistent, sticking close to his love for honky tonk and roots country. As a title, Outlaw may be an outdated term in the industry, but Chesnutt doesn't care. On this 12 song-set recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Pete Anderson, Chesnutt pays tributes to the heroes of his youth, covering songs by Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Hank Williams, Jr., Guy Clark, David Allan Coe, Shel Silverstein, and others. All of these songs have been covered before and often, and Chesnutt doesn't do anything revolutionary with any of them -- and that's the point: perfection needs no improvement. Beginning with Shaver's "Black Rose," you can actually feel the presence of its author The sentiment expressed in Hank Jr.'s "Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound" is a reflection of the truth in a life lived rather than a party anthem. In Jennings' arrangement of Neil Young's "Ready for the Country" -- featuring dueling slide guitars and fiddles -- the listener can hear Waylon's ghost. The desolation in Kristofferson's "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" and "Lovin' Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)," the desolation, and the strain of pained memory and loss are not hinted at, they're expressed as grief bravely articulated. Chesnutt and Anderson have turned in a no-frills, solid, lean, mean, rocking, emotionally sincere tribute to the outlaw generation, which is, in many ways, an extension of Chesnutt's own persona; these guys were the reasons he got into the business in the first place.
by Thom Jurek