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Waylon Jennings
Closing in on the Fire,  Arc 21 CD 10023C, 1998

 A moving summation

A steely, creative fire yet burns inside Waylon Jennings. As exemplified by his latest release,  Closing In On The Fire, his 72nd album, Waylon indeed has many more worthy tales and tunes to tell and sing.

Waylon, who recently turned 61, and suffered a mild stroke earlier this year, explores themes of impending death while alternately looking back on a life that’s been quite unique. Indeed, rarely has he been more openly personal than he is on "Just Like Your Mama and Me." The tune, Jennings says, was written "for my children," and is a sweetly wistful message that says he may not have it all, and surely doesn’t know it all, yet "if you want to see what love is, just look at your mama and me."

Ever enigmatic, Waylon moves beyond his usual country terrain on several cuts. The funky title track, penned by Tony Joe White (of "Poke Salad Annie" fame), is noteworthy for Waylon’s irascible, growling vocals. Sting shows up to plunk his bass on Waylon’s version of the former Police-man’s "She’s Too Good For Me." Sheryl Crow sings a line or two on the tune that, despite Waylon’s valiant performance, is ill-suited for him. With nary a country hint, the track wavers into a pop territory that, while ready-made for Sting’s rather limited voice, simply catches Waylon out of his element. Fortunately, it represents the album’s lone miscue.

Much better, new country giant Travis Tritt duets with Waylon on "I Know About Me, Don’t Know About You." Tritt, in the role of the relatively inexperienced upstart, handles the song’s fast rock-edged tempo, exhibiting an impatience that comes with youth. Waylon, the sagacious legend, easily strides through the tune’s slow, decidedly country pace, singing "I don’t see the need for feeling blue/So little time, so much to do/I’ll still be dancing when the song is through/I know about me, don’t know about you."

Waylon revisits his past on "Best Friends Of Mine," an homage to Buddy Holly, Hank Williams Jr., and Jim Isham, a longtime friend from the Outlaw’s Phoenix days. His roots appear elsewhere, yet in a much different manner. The legendary Carl Smith, 71 and long retired, was coaxed into recording "Untitled Waltz." Waylon, who idolized Smith as a youngster, once noted that in his early days he patterned his career and appearance after the man known for such hits as "Back Up Buddy." Smith’s voice, ravaged somewhat by age, still possesses the power of conviction that once made him a superstar. Grouped with his protegé, their first ever duet, the pair imparts valuable words of wisdom–"Saints are just sinners who never quit trying/Losers are winners who picked the wrong day/And we’re all just beginners when it comes time for dying"–with the conviction and knowledge of experience.

 Closing In On The Fire is an elegy without the sadness. Tempered with humor, homage, genuine honesty, and occasional tenderness, the album sums up Waylon’s life in a deeply personal manner unlike any of his previous efforts.– Tom Netherland

Copyright © 1999 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.