It's a music criticism cliché to complain about the title of a collection like Ultimate Waylon Jennings, to snipe that the album doesn't live up to the promise of its title when, after all, the Ultimate series is merely RCA/BMG's response to Sony's popular Essentials series. Still, when a compilation falls as short of the mark as this, it's hard not to grumble. Ultimate Waylon Jennings suffers from the need to be evenhanded and to extend the compilation to his less popular and less artistically successful '80s recordings, including a selection from the supergroup the Highwaymen. This comes at the expense of any '60s hit outside of "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line," any song from the immortal Honky Tonk Heroes, several hits (including many number ones), and a lot of great album tracks and minor hits. Of course, these kind of omissions are inevitable when a career as rich and prolific as Waylon's is condensed to a mere 22 tracks, but the problem is that there is too much emphasis on late-'70s material and too many tracks from the '80s (a full seven songs), and there are too many classic tracks missing. Nevertheless, there are enough classics present -- such as "The Taker," "I'm a Ramblin' Man," "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way," and "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)" -- to make it an enjoyable listen, but there are so many good Waylon compilations on the market that there's not much reason to get this, even if it's billed as Ultimate.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine