Right for the Time
Willie Nelson makes his "comeback" doing Paul Simon's "An American Tune" and "Graceland" on Across the Borderline in 1993, then Waylon turns around three years later and digs up "The Boxer" to resuscitate a career on life support. Nelson hired producer Don Was to help with his "pop" move on Borderline, then Jennings paid Was to reduce Waymore's Blues the following year. Now Waylon follows Willie to Justice, Randall Jamail's Houston-based label that paid homage to Nelson earlier this year with a "tribute record" so godawful (Twisted Willie) they ought to make the whole tribute concept illegal. Jennings should hope Jamail doesn't feel so damned nice about him.
Till Willie bolted for Island to record his "gospel" record to be followed by his "reggae" record (desperation smells a lot like money and pot), Jamail boasted three-fourths of the Highwaymen on his roster (including Kris Kristofferson)--which either makes Justice the new country-music retirement home, or means Jamail can afford to get sentimental even after his heroes have emptied their creative bank accounts. Not that Right for the Time is totally bankrupt, but there's nothing worse than the sound of an Outlaw trying to go straight after all these years.
Jamail presents Jennings as a waxwork, a piece of living antiquity forever stuck in 1976: The old man's singing about getting drunk, wasting time, being bitter when he's realized he's past his prime before his time ("Living legends are a dying breed/There ain't too many left/To tell the truth, I ain't been feelin'/Real hot lately my damn self"). He's got a point--country adores its tradition but abhors its traditionalists--but Waylon's so damned wrapped up in securing his place in history, he's become part of it.
Right for the Time comes off like one of Jennings' late '80s-early '90s records (A Man Called Hoss or Too Dumb for New York City, Too Ugly for LA): Jennings and Jamail remember what made Waylon great in the first place--his Texas growl emanating from Nashville, a rock-and-roll demon in the body of a country upstart--but they spend so much time tracing the original they forget to fill in the lines. The record only gets going by the end--"Out of Jail" tells a good story and packs a great punch line, Jennings' delivery of Kimmie Rhodes' "Lines" is almost touching ("In my mind, I'm having a beautiful life"), and "Deep in the West" pairs his croak with Jessi Colter's warble once more to grievous effect--but it doesn't matter how good your fast ball is in the ninth inning when you've given up 10 runs in the first eight.