REVIEW: Various Artists – The Very Best Of Outlaw Country

First, a little history.

By the late 1960’s, the Nashville establishment had a good thing going. Country music was changing and becoming more and more appealing to mainstream America, and a lot of country artists were becoming major crossover stars. Not everybody catered to that style of the music, but songwriters and performers who wanted to work regularly soon learned how to play the game.

As the 1970s began, things began to change. Willie Nelson had been a fairly successful songwriter but only with certain types of songs, and he wasn’t particularly happy with his career as a performer either. He decided to move back to Texas, and over the next few years worked almost exclusively in Austin, doing things his way. He was soon joined by Waylon Jennings and – so the legend goes – the outlaw movement was born.

Of course, there were a few other rebels doing their thing too, including Charlie Daniels, David Allan Coe, and others, and eventually even Southern rockers like the Allmans and Lynyrd Skynyrd became part of the movement too. But Willie and Waylon are rightly given credit for being the heart and soul of the movement — especially Willie, who has been called the “godfather”.

That being the case, it will come as no surprise that Willie and Waylon form the core of a new release from the Legacy division of Sony/BMG, The Very Best Of Outlaw Country. The album is being issued as part of Willie’s 75th birthday celebration. (A separate four-CD edition of Willie’s music is also being released.) The pair’s classic duet “Good-Hearted Woman,” is included, as are solos from each. Willie’s is his megahit, “Whiskey River,” and Waylon contributes with the whimsical “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.”

But although the 20 tracks on this album include some of the legendary songs, there are also a few from the intervening years and even a couple of newer tunes, all with the sound and spirit that continues the outlaw tradition. Some of the classics include Johnny Paycheck’s timeless “Take This Job And Shove It,” and David Allan Coe’s “You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” which has been called the best country song of all time. Southern rock is well represented by “Gimme Three Steps” from Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Ramblin’ Man” by the Allmans, and one of my very favorites, the Georgia Satellites’ “Keep Your Hands To Yourself.”

The ladies haven’t been forgotten, and the three here certainly have contrasting styles. They range from the softness of Waylon’s wife, Jessi Colter, singing “Why You Been Gone So Long,” to the bold sound of Tanya Tucker’s “Texas (When I Die),” and the modern style of Gretchen Wilson’s “Here For The Party.”

There’s a lot more, and in fact this album is so stuffed with good tracks that it has reached a status seldom attained. It has become a “VCD” — one of the dozen or so CD’s I keep on the visor in my auto for regular play in the car’s CD player. There is no higher honor.


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