Waylon Jennings / Willie Nelson

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WWII Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

The first time Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson released a duet record, it was at the height of outlaw country -- it was 1978, and the two were the biggest stars in country music, not only selling millions of copies, which was unheard of prior to outlaw, but they were critically respected. They dominated the scene, which allowed them to get away with a patchwork record of solo cuts, duets, and old tunes with overdubbed vocals by Nelson. Five years later, they teamed up again for WWII (har har), and while this record displayed considerably more care, it also displayed some of the flaws that marked their solo work of the time. In 1982, Waylon and Willie were still riding high on the country charts, but the quality of Jennings' work was beginning to slip and his sales were responding accordingly, as 1982's Black on Black reflected. Nelson had his biggest hit ever that year with Always on My Mind, but it also was his worst album to date, the first time he sounded like he couldn't be bothered. The sessions that comprise WWII date from before those records (most are from December 1981), but they were all produced by the same producer, Chips Moman, whose touch was a little too slick for either Waylon or Willie to do their best work. Fortunately, he lightens up a bit for this record; it's still polished and not gritty at all, but the choice of material is pretty good, particularly the Jimmy Webb ("Mr. Shuck and Jive"), Guy Clark ("The Old Mother's Locket Trick"), and Tom T. Hall ("The Year That Clayton Delaney Died") covers, and Willie's Nashville-bashing original "Write Your Own Songs." However, the billing, like last time, is a little misleading, since this is essentially a Waylon Jennings record featuring five duets with Willie Nelson (who contributes no solo cuts this time). This winds up being a little more consistent than Black on Black (even though it shares "May I Borrow Some Sugar from You"), largely because Willie's presence helps focus the song selection and performance, but even at its best, WWII is nowhere near as good as Waylon and Willie are at their best, since they're coasting on reputation through most of this, a fact that's only enhanced by Moman's glossy showcase production.

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