The Outlaws: Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, Tompall Glaser
Released: January 1976
Chart Peak: #10
Weeks Charted: 51
Certified 2x Platinum: 1/21/85
The artist-as-outlaw idea is not new -- traveling ballad singers were always suspect -- but on this album there are several other levels at work. All four of these singers have chosen to step out of the Nashville assembly line to make music that's a little more meaningful, and relevant to something besides the top of the charts; this hasn't made them popular with the Nashville establishment. Then there's the concept Waylon Jennings had some time ago for "outlaw music festivals," which featured most of the people included here and operated outside the normal country package-tour setup. This LP could be that idea's soundtrack.
It also functions as a sampler, bringing together people whose relationships are complex: Willie Nelson and Jennings have cowritten songs and sometimes sing each other's material; Jessi Colter and Jennings are married; Jennings and Tompall Glaser are business as well as musical partners. Obviously, Jennings is the album's strong force, appearing on almost half of the eleven cuts, many of which have been previously released.
Nelson's contributions include the "Good Hearted Woman" duet, "Heaven or Hell" (which both he and Waylon have recorded; this version is from Jennings's album This Time) and a couple of solo numbers ("Yesterday's Wine," a laconically effective drinking song, and the autbiographical "Me and Paul," which is about cross-country touring with Glaser). Glaser follows with a sardonic vocal on the Jimmie Rodgers chestnut "T for Texas" -- it's an easy but driving bar blues in his hands. "Put Another Log on the Fire" is a toungue-in-cheek Shel Silverstein number, appropriately sung by Tompall.
This is the tip of an iceberg. Though best known as country musicians, all of these people reach beyond categories. Only one complaint -- what the hell ever happened to the double, live Waylon LP? There's a lot of us still hungry for that one.
- Tony Glover, Rolling Stone, 3/11/76.
There's a big enough body of talent here to go bear hunting with a willow switch, but this sampler doesn't satisfy the way it should; it is rushed, I think, and a little slapdash. Waylon Jennings sort of dominates it, which would be fine with me except that the songs he chooses to do are all pretty much alike, and the band backing him sounds like it's sealed up inside a barrel, except for the bass, which is outside with Jennings and plenty loud. The sound behind Willie Nelson is considerably clearer, and the songs he chooses complement each other better and relax with the album's thematics. But then there is Tompall Glaser, a fine singer, a natural, who seems to have given song selection even less of a lick and more of a promise than Waylon did, and to have managed to sound slightly distracted singing. Jessi could keep her tunes, I guess, although I do wish female c-&-w singers with such nice voices didn't have such a narrow range of songs to choose from.
- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 8/76.
Four of country's (and increasingly pop's) top stars get together individually and in various combinations (Waylon & Willie, Waylon & Jessi) for a set that should appeal to all. Key here is the kind of music all four have championed independently over the years -- a music that is difficult to categorize except as good music. And the anticategorization argument gets a good boost here. Songs range from familiar (recent or current hits from Waylon & Willie, Jessi and Tompall) to favorite album cuts to lesser known cuts such as Tompall's reworking of classic Jimmie Rodgers and a fine Sharon Vaughn ballad from Waylon. Cuts are also included from Willie's "Yesterday's Wine," one of country's first concept LPs. Four distinctive voices on one set often becomes more of a sampler than an album, but here the individuality only serves to bring about more cohesiveness. Best cuts: "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys," "You Mean To Say," "Suspicious Minds," "Good Hearted Woman," "Yesterday's Wine," "T For Texas."
- Billboard, 1976.
No truth-in-packaging awards here -- you'd never know from the label that most of this had been heard before in other configurations -- but how about a cheer-and-a-half for the programming? Me, I often find Waylon and Willie (and Tompall and Jessi) a little tedious over a whole side. This never gets boring. B+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Released to cash in on the "outlaw" movement in country music, this was the first country album to sell a million. Fans already had much of this material from other sources (most of the tracks were just re-issues). It served as a sampler for new fans -- and served well. This could whet one's appetite to search out the entire Waylon & Willie RCA catalogue.
- Jim Worbois, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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