Not as good as their 1st album, but definitely worth hearing
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 23 January 2006
There can be no doubt that the original coming-together of 'The Highwaymen' was an event that everyone should applaud and enjoy. Their first album was, I feel, their best, with its drama and darkness, but this album does try to run it a close second. If anything, it is rather more upbeat than their first, and there is still the same emphasis upon them sharing lead vocals or switching vocals between verses.
Track 1, 'The devil's right hand' is a rousing opener whereas the gentler, acoustic (almost 'folky') feel of the next track, 'Live forever', is an enjoyable contrast. Definitely more mellow than anything on their first album. The mandolin in that track and the piano and steel guitar in track 3 ('Everyone gets crazy') tends to increase the feel of this being a slightly over-produced album in the traditional mould of modern American country music. But that, of course, reflects my own impression and preferences.
Track 4, 'It is what it is' plunges us back into a heavier, guitar and harmonica-driven track. This has all the energy we expect from the combination of 4 such diverse and yet close musicians. A powerful track.
Track 5, 'I do believe' once again comes as a sharp contrast with it's acoustic sound (guitar and dobro) and its religious but unsentimental theme.
Track 6, 'The end of understanding' strikes me as being a slightly schmalzy take on the type of country music that flooded the airwaves in the late 50's and early 60's .... the type of music that Jim Reeves made his own. He did it far better.
Track 7, 'True love travels a gravel road' begins well. I almost found myself waiting for a Clapton-syle guitar intro, but then the song developed as another example of slightly over-produced country smoothness. No grit or darkness here, not even when Johnny Cash sings about a hard life full of tears.
Track 8, 'Death and Hell' sounds like it should be a bluesy rock number. In fact this is a classic Luther Perkins style 'chicka-boom' accompaniment to a Cash performance of a 'song' that is partly spoken in the way that some of earliest recordings were. This is really a return to the way he used to tell stories in song and as such is a very enjoyable track, but it is nowhere near as dark as the title might suggest.
Track 9, 'Waiting for a long time' Is another rocker, pretty well outside the usual genre of country music.
Track 10, 'Here comes that rainbow again' is a well known song, performed here as a slow acoustic song. Happily, it lacks a lot of the syrup and cloying sweetness of other singers' recordings. Indeed, there actually is a slight hint of darkness here - unfortunately mollified by mandolin and synth.
Track 11, 'The road goes on forever' is another traditional upbeat country song.
Track 12 'If He comes back' is the first of 6 bonus tracks which share the common feature of sounding unrehearsed, informal and off-the-cuff. This song is much closer to the rockier style of their first album. A really good track with an excellent ending in which you hear them laughing as a sign of their enjoyment.
Track 13, 'Live forever' is another classic early Johnny Cash-style song ... acoustic, stripped bare and all the better for it. No over-production here. No overlaying with mandolins, steel guitars or synths. It has the feel of a jam session with occasional non-vocal contributions from the others. A whole album like this would be a joy.
Track 14 'I ain't song' has the feel of being another recording that was made as they joshed around. There are 'sounds off', laughter and a generally un-produced feel that makes this a wonderful record of their relationship. This is informal music at its best. You'll love it or loathe it.
Track 15, 'Pick up the tempo' is another informal recording, led this time by Willie Nelson with lots of unrehearsed laughter and 'butting-in' by the others.
Track 16, 'Closer to the bone' continues the theme of a recording made during rehearsals or a friendly jam session.
Track 17, 'Back in the saddle again' ends the CD in this same 'informal' mode. It's a short track that sounds like four friends singing a song that not all of them know.
Without a doubt, the 6 bonus tracks are hugely different from the preceding 11. To my ears, they typify and capture the quality of 'The Highwaymen' far more effectively than anything else on the CD. But they are obviously out-takes or informal recordings, so it is right that they were included here at the end of the track listing.
Throughout this review, I am conscious of having used the word 'slightly, quite a few times. That, I feel, is my reason for only awarding the CD 4 stars.
> At times, it is slightly over-produced .
> Some tracks are slightly weakened by the use of instruments or production styles which disperse or distract from the energy and individuality of the performers.
> Viewed as a whole, it is almost a great album, but slightly misses its target.
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