Waylon & Willie

Waylon Jennings / Willie Nelson

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Waylon & Willie Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

It sat on the top of the country charts for 11 weeks and went double platinum, making it one of the biggest hits in either Waylon Jennings' or Willie Nelson's catalog. Years after its initial 1978 release, Waylon & Willie remains one of their biggest-selling albums, but its perennial popularity has more to do with their iconic status -- something this album deliberately played up -- than the quality of the music, which is, overall, merely good. Released in early 1978, a few months after Jennings' Ol' Waylon spent 13 weeks on the top of the charts in the summer of 1977, thanks in part to the hit single "Luckenbach, Texas" featuring a chorus sung by Nelson, the album was intended as a celebration of the peak of outlaw, but in retrospect, it looks like where the movement was beginning to slide into predictability, even if both singers are more or less in command of their talents here. Though still at the peak of his popularity, Waylon had begun to slip slightly creatively starting with the very good, but not great, Are You Ready for the Country, which suggested that he was having a little harder time getting a full album of consistently great material together. The patchwork nature of this album suggests that he still had the problem, but since it was divided into three solo songs apiece and five duets, this plays to his strengths, because the limited number of new songs doesn't give him room to stumble. Though a moody cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Gold Dust Woman" is a little awkward, his original "Lookin' for a Feeling" is sturdy, and the album-closing "The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don't Want to Get Over You)" is brilliant, possibly the best song here, even if the heart of the record -- what the album is selling -- is the four duets with Willie. One of these, of course, is the monster hit "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," with two others -- "The Year 2003 Minus 25" and "Don't Cuss the Fiddle" -- being laid-back, funny Kris Kristofferson songs that showcase Waylon & Willie's roguish humor and charm. The other, "Pick Up the Tempo," is one of Willie's classics, but it, like Nelson's three solo tracks, is a previously released Waylon recording stripped of his vocals and overdubbed by Nelson. This isn't a crippling problem -- the songs are good, as are the performances and the singing, so they're modestly enjoyable -- but they do sound a little distant, and it makes the entire album sound cobbled together: not the deliberate compilation of The Outlaws, but significantly less than a real album from either Waylon or Willie or both of them. Instead, it sounds like a vehicle for them to keep riding their huge popularity. Since it was cut at a time they were making consistently enjoyable music, it's fun, but it could have been much, much more than it is.

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