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Waylon Jennings and the Waymore Blues Band "Never Say Die The Final Concert Film" (Columbia/Legacy)

Album ReviewsHaving kicked cocaine and survived bypass surgery and a mild stroke, Jennings was slowed by emphysema and taken off the road by diabetes. But his love of the stage never left him, and in place of riding the bus for extended tours he scheduled one-off shows here and there. He reconstituted and expanded the Waylors with a horn section, fiddle player and backing vocalist and focused them on live performance. This January 2000 concert at the Ryman Auditorium wasn't Jennings' last (that came the following year in Kansas City), but with cameras and tape recorders rolling it as a something of a final hurrah, a grand celebration played out before a hugely appreciative audience. Jennings remained seated throughout the show, but with his crack band pumping out hits, obscurities, covers and new songs, he remained quite robust. His voice showed feint signs of age on the edges, but the core of its authority, power and charisma was still completely intact. Though lauded as an elder statesman in Nashville, and passing away just two years later, Jennings was as artistically vital as at any point in his illustrious career. He treated this show with the same ferocity with which he'd rewritten the playbook for live country music. Opening with the fiery declaration "Never Say Die," the set list was filled out with a deft mix of classics, rarities, personally-loved covers and a few new tunes. This was a working artist whose creativity and drive lasted until the very end.

Much like his pioneering bands of the 1970s, Jennings' revitalized combo was a twangy country group with the power and presence of a rock band. The three-piece horn section added sharp accents, guitarist Reggie Young stood in for Jennings on lead with grace, and steel player Robby Turner (who also added mandolin and guitar) provided a flavorful presence throughout. Jennings was a natural showman, with down-to-earth patter between songs that jokingly took aim at his own infirmities ("I can still kick ass you just gotta bring 'em up here"). He graciously shared the spotlight with guests John Anderson (for a super fine version of "Waymore's Blues" that clearly tickles Jennings), Montgomery-Gentry ("I'm a Ramblin' Man"), Travis Tritt ("I've Always Been Crazy"), and his wife Jessi Colter. A shot of Jennings gazing livingly at Colter as she sings "I'm Not Lisa" speaks volumes about their relationship, as does their duet on "Storms Never Last."

Additional highlights include a medley of Waylon & Willie tunes that found Jennings imitating Nelson's nasal delivery, a pairing of "Amanda" and "A Couple More Years" that hung emotionally on Jennings' mortality, the rare Shel Silverstein collaboration "It's the World's Gone Crazy (Cotillion)," the soulful "Shakin' the Blues," a cover of Hoyt Axton's "Never Been to Spain," and the never-give-up "Goin' Down Rockin'." Two staples of Jennings' live shows, The Band's "The Weight" and The Outlaws "Can't You See" brought the set to a stirring finish.

Columbia previously released 14 tracks from this show on 200's "Never Say Die" via the subsidiary Lucky Dog label. This 1-DVD, 2-CD set reproduces the show in sequence from the opening curtain to the final thank you. The DVD includes both stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, and in addition to the concert footage, there's a snappily produced 32-minute making-of featurette that includes interviews (Willie Nelson, Bobby Bare, Chet Atkins, Travis Tritt, Billy Joe Shaver, Jessi Colter, Jack Clement, Kris Kristofferson), photos, rehearsal footage. Rich Kienzle's liner notes are complemented by superb photos, rounding out a package that provides superb memories of one of country music's giants. [2007 redtunictroll at hotmail dot com]

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