Closing in on the Fire (Ark 21)
Waylon Jennings

By Jim Conway

Let's face it: Waylon Jennings has never fit in with the Nashville "establishment." In his early career, he always looked uncomfortable on The Grand Ole Opry. He appeared wooden and unnatural while making TV appearances in the Sixties. It wasn't until his association with fellow Texan Willie Nelson that the establishment grudgingly appeared to accept Jennings as a major player . . . but his drug bust seemed to garner more attention than his music. There's no doubt that Waylon Jennings is a Nashville image consultant's worse nightmare, which is what his fans love about him.

In 1959, Jennings played bass on Buddy Holly's final concert tour. He credits Holly for being the first to recognize he was more than a "hillbilly singer." Holly advised Jennings not to limit himself, which is something producer Gregg Brown has encouraged the 61-year-old performer to do on Closing In On The Fire.

Sting, Sheryl Crow, Travis Tritt and Mark Knopfler contribute to this project. On the surface, this might make this collection seem like another "past their prime" industry tribute album, but it's obvious Waylon carries Closing In On The Fire on his broad artistic shoulders.

Although the outside contributions are fine, like Sting's "She Too Good For Me" and Tony Joe White's title cut, Waylon's own compositions really make this CD something special. "Just Watch Your Mamma and Me" walks that thin line between sentimentality and fluff without being embarrassing. The song is written from the view of a father, telling his children that even though he doesn't understand much about relationships today, he can show them the example of love his wife and he share while dancing. His point is only enhanced by real-life wife Jesse Colter's contribution as a background vocalist.

Another Jennings-penned original, "Back Home (Where I Come From)," pokes good-natured fun at his plight with the drug bust, poor health and Nashville industry indifference, respectively by singing: "I beat the D.E.A. and the A.M.A. and the C.M.A. to boot. / I backed 'em up and I held 'em up with a gun that wouldn't shoot." He goes on to sing that back home (in Texas), they would be impressed with what he's accomplished, but not in Nashville.

And why shouldn't they be impressed? Maybe the answer lies in "Best Friend Of Mine," in which Jennings recounts his short time with Buddy Holly and the influence Holly had on him at the beginning of his career. This song demonstrates Jennings' true affection for Holly, and his appreciation for the insight that he would be selling himself short by just labeling himself a country singer.

Closing In On The Fire covers the gamut from country to blues, Cajun to rock 'n' roll, corporate country to Western swing. It's no wonder the Nashville establishment isn't able to accept an artist who is more than just a country singer.