The Music Inside: A Collaboration Dedicated to Waylon Jennings, Volume I
There’s a very good reason most tribute albums are lousy: The majority of them are collections of disparate tracks, each recorded by a completely different team of artists, musicians and producers. That almost always results in a lack of cohesion, even given the unifying factor provided by the songs. The Music Inside is a convincing argument that tribute albums can be done well—if they have a unified and well-thought-out approach. The presence of producer Witt Stewart and a fairly consistent backing-band lineup on all the tracks here makes this sound like an album, one that allows the various vocalists to relax and take their best shot at the impossible: filling the shoes of the late outlaw-country legend.
Unsurprisingly, the singer who gets closest to reaching that goal is modern-day Jennings acolyte Jamey Johnson, who leans into “This Time” with the confidence of a man who knows his subject’s catalog forward and backward. But there isn’t really a dud here, from Alabama’s confident take on “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” to James Otto’s insistent “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand”—and the metatextual qualities of both of those songs in particular lend these versions an extra dimension. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise is a duet on “Good Hearted Woman” by country up-and-comer Sunny Sweeney and Jennings’ widow, Jessi Colter, who subvert the original with an illuminating gender switch. Two more volumes of The Music Inside are promised, but the first is a fine start. –Chris Neal