When Waylon Jennings left his longtime home of RCA for MCA in 1986, it was time for a change. As the halcyon outlaw days of the late '70s gave way to the polished peak of urban cowboy in the early '80s, Waylon started to drift, and by mid-decade he wasn't having hits like he used to and his records weren't as strong, so changing labels made good sense. Teaming up with producer Jimmy Bowen, he updated his classic sound on 1985's Will the Wolf Survive?, his first album for MCA, which featured Steve Earle's "The Devil's Right Hand" and Los Lobos' title track. At the time, both artists were on the roots rock cutting edge, and they lent a hip veneer to the record, which was primarily written by Nashville pros and given a big, clean production that was just this side of slick, yet used for most country, blues, and roots rock albums of the late '80s. As MCA Nashville's double-disc 2004 collection The Complete MCA Recordings proves, that is the sound and aesthetic that came to mark his work for MCA. Two years later, Jennings and Bowen gave Waylon an even bigger, varnished sound on Hangin' Tough, where he wrapped his powerful baritone around Sammy Johns' wimp-rock anthem "Chevy Van," which is a good indication of the quality of that record (although he did a remarkably effective interpretation of Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" on this same record). He bounced back somewhat that same year with the doggedly biographical A Man Called Hoss, which may hammer its theme home with each song bearing a chapter title separate from its song title, but is one of his more interesting latter-day albums, and helped point the way toward 1988's Full Circle, which found him co-writing the majority of the material for the first time at MCA (with the exception of A Man Called Hoss). There are interesting moments on each of these records, but they're balanced out by too many faceless album tracks -- professionally written and performed, but not memorable -- and even the best moments are undercut by the overbearing production, which is way too slick and sequenced and has dated very badly. Waylon was making better, more interesting albums than he was at the end of his term with RCA, but despite his ambition, they're not all successful, and that production can make this collection a bit of a tiring listen. Nevertheless, this is a valuable package for the hardcore fan, since it contains the entirety of all four albums plus a few loose ends, making it a good library piece.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Track Listing - Disc 1
feat: Johnny Cash
Track Listing - Disc 2
feat: John Anderson