Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard | Django and Jimmie (Legacy)

cd nelson-haggardThe road-worn cowboys refuse to give up that mischievous glint in their eye that lights the way to the next good time.



There are certain lofty expectations that come with the idea of two music industry icons coming together to make a record. In the case of country music outlaws Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, they not only have their still-impressive solo careers to keep pace with, but their 1983 honkytonk blockbuster Pancho & Lefty album, as well. If the pressure of said expectations were of any concern to Nelson and Haggard, however, someone sure forgot to tell them.

The new album, Django and Jimmie, is all about the grizzled and bleary-eyed perspective of road-worn cowboys who refuse to give up that mischievous glint in their eye that lights the way to the next good time. Nowhere is this more apparent than on “It’s All Going to Pot,” a track written by legendary songwriter Buddy Cannon, and a soon-to-be-anthem for devotees of cannabis culture everywhere. Sample lyric: “All the whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee/ Just couldn’t hit the spot/ I got a hundred dollar bill/ You can keep your pills, friend/ ‘Cause it’s all goin’ to pot.” Clearly, Cheech and Chong have a long way to go before they catch up to these guys.

The title track pays homage to two of the pair’s biggest influences, jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and Jimmie “The Singing Brakeman” Rogers, both artists whose fingerprints are all over Django and Jimmie’s 14 tracks. “Missing ol’ Johnny Cash” finds Nelson and Haggard waxing nostalgic and trading references and tales about the once and always Man in Black, imbedded in the classic Sun Records’ boom-chicka-boom rhythms of his early tunes. They even keep a little space on the record to give each other the musical tribute treatment, with Nelson singing Haggard’s “Somewhere Between” and Haggard covering Nelson’s “Family Bible,” both to great effect.

As vocalists, the pair shines brightest and mines the most out of the emotional core of their respective styles on slower tracks like “Unfair Weather Friend” and the dreamlike waltz of “Alice in Hulaland,” one of four Nelson co-writes on the album. Another high-point on the record is the duo’s gorgeous interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” in which their gift for subtly twisting the phrasing of a lyric brings an intimacy to the track that even the original didn’t possess.

The album isn’t without a few surprises, particularly on “It’s Only Money,” where a saxophone pops in and out of the arrangement as the band brings the rollicking party to a boil in a way that contemporary ‘Bro-Country” artists can only dream about. Haggard’s self-penned “Swinging Doors” brings the album back to country music’s golden years as lap-steel guitar dances gracefully with Nelson’s crackling raw guitar lines.

Addressing their present state and the unspoken truths of mortality in “Live This Long,” Haggard sings “Well, we’re in pretty good shape, Will/ For the shape that we’re in/ We’ll keep rockin’ along ‘till we’re gone.” If the sublime Django and Jimmie is any indication of their creative energies, here’s hoping these two trains have many more miles of track left to explore. | Jim Ousley

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