On Outlaw, Mark Chesnutt pays tribute to the songs that “brought him to the dance.” “I cut my teeth on this kind of music,” Chestnutt said. “It’s an opportunity for me to pay tribute to some of my biggest heroes in country music.”
This Texan enjoys a special kinship with some of the performers and writers who made these songs popular. Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, along with songwriters Billy Joe Shaver and Guy Clark, all come from Texas. Rather than permanently move to Nashville, Chesnutt chose to keep Beaumont, Texas as his hometown.
The tracks are a mix of Chesnutt’s neotraditional style that alternates between honky-tonk and ballads. The lyrics may not be as familiar, but the chorus on Kristofferson’s “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” is immediately recognizable. It’s an impressive song that Chesnutt performs to perfection. He gives Neil Young’s “Are You Ready for the Country” (recorded by Waylon Jennings) a grit that Young’s version never had. Another standout is “A Couple More Years,” previously done by Willie Nelson, and recorded here as a duet with Amber Digby.
The production, musicianship and vocals are impeccable throughout. The songs live up to the album title with plenty of stories about women, partying and a hard lifestyle. That’s not to say that this doesn’t have its tender moments. Kristofferson’s “Lovin’ Her Was Easier” and “Freedom to Stay” (recorded by Waylon Jennings) are beautifully rendered love songs.
Chesnutt can honky-tonk with the best, but his reverent interpretations of classic ballads moved me the most. You can hear the pathos in the closing “Desperados Waiting for a Train.”
Outlaw is Chesnutt’s fourteenth studio recording. Along the way, he has earned four platinum and five gold albums plus fourteen #1 singles. This modern-day outlaw shows no signs of slowing down with this heartfelt work.
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