It’s fitting that Chris and Morgane Stapleton open this homage to Waylon Jennings – they’re a spiritual echo of Jennings and Jessi Colter, the duke and duchess of Seventies outlaw country, and emblematic of how the movement shaped generations of acts who chafe at Nashville conservatism but refuse to be marginalized. Recorded live in July 2015, this concert LP gathers Jennings’ family and friends with all-star acolytes for the rarest of things: a tribute album that almost never flags, with performances that approach or match the originals.
Jennings was both interpreter and writer, and when he
claimed a song, he owned it. But the gender flips here are illuminating: Kacey
Musgraves teases the pathos from “The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want to Get
Over You),” from Waylon & Willie; Alison Krauss reprises her
heavenly cover of “Dreaming My Dreams With You.” Jennings’ running
buddies shine, among them Bobby Bare, Willie Nelson, of course, and Kris
Kristofferson, whose ravaged “I Do Believe” – Jennings’ masterpiece
from their Highwaymen days – is a tear-jerker. That said, the set’s highlight
is “Freedom to Stay” by Jamey Johnson, perhaps the Waylon-est of the
man’s heirs (dude, where’s that new album?). Slowing the tempo to a crawl, he ponders
the song’s contradictions in his stentorian, Jennings-like baritone, laying out
the highly personal good-vs.-bad cage match that defines the soul of the best
country music, and of Jennings’ in particular.