WAYLON & WILLIE Clean Shirt; WILLIE NELSON Who’ll Buy My Memories? (The IRS Tapes)
The grandfathers of country’s ”outlaw” movement, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson revolutionized country records in the mid-’70s with Nelson’s sparsely produced ”Red Headed Stranger,” and their joint collection (with Tompall Glaser and Jessi Colter) ”The Outlaws,” which was the first country album to sell a million copies. Clean Shirt, like most of their joint ventures since, celebrates the mythical, rambling, carousing cowboy life, sometimes, as on ”Tryin’ to Outrun the Wind,” in semipoetic fashion. But unlike their earlier material, the songs here (”I Could Write a Book About You,” ”Old Age and Treachery”) too often deal in forced camaraderie. Maybe it’s time Waylon and Willie finally sent their ”outlaw” shtick off into the sunset.
Nelson is far more effective on his solo album, released to offset part of his $16 million Internal Revenue Service debt (and sold exclusively via TV ads and phone orders: call 800-652-3400). Consisting of 25 original songs recorded way back when — ”Lonely Little Mansion” is from 1963, ”Yesterday’s Wine” from 1971, and the exquisite ”I Still Can’t Believe You’re Gone” from 1974, for example — the album features only Nelson’s warm, emotive baritone and the deft accompaniment of his acoustic guitar. All of these tunes, written when Nelson still had something to say, explain how he came close to being a deity in his native Texas, bringing together hippies and rednecks in pure appreciation of his music. ”Clean Shirt”: C+; ”Who’ll Buy”: B+