Spanning Jennings’ career from 1964 to 1987, this two-CD collection corrals 42 songs, including a dozen of his #1 country hits and scores that made the Top 10. The scope of the material is pretty mind-bending. Disc One begins with a hint of the outlaw in the making on “Big Mamou”—a rocked-up version of the zydeco standard that Jennings tracked in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1964 (where he grew up, honed his craft, became a DJ, and eventually connected with Buddy Holly). Shortly thereafter, the infamous Bobby Bare convinced Chet Atkins to give the scruffy singer-songwriter a shot on RCA, and Jennings relocated to Nashville, where, for years, he had to battle everyone in charge at the company over just about everything. Jennings persevered in face of some pretty shameful treatment by the old studio guard—who apparently felt that the long-haired Jennings was some sort of space alien bent on destroying everything they stood for—and, in 1973, was finally given complete control over the production of his music.
The results of this big change of fortunes can be heard on Disc Two, which contains a bunch of cool songs that reflect his unfettered freedom to record what he wanted, the way he wanted, with no one giving him any crap for how loud he wanted the damn bass drum! Oddly, none of the tracks from Jennings’ biggest album, Wanted! The Outlaws (a.k.a. Nashville’s first platinum album) are presented here, but, nonetheless, this pair of CDs puts some serious perspective on country music’s most notorious bad boy—one that, for god’s sake, even saw fit to tour with the Grateful Dead.—Art Thompson
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