This is an unfairly overlooked album, representing a pivotal period in the Outlaw country scene. The original Outlaw movement is generally attributed to Waylon Jennings, who did the actual rebelling-against-the-Nashville-mainstream-from-within-the-system that led to the scene’s ascendance, though both Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson were more than doing their bit from outside Nashville (and Johnny Cash had been all along). Other established acts soon followed their lead, including Bobby Bare, whose finest moment must surely be Lullabys, Legends and Lies, his 1973 double album of songs by Shel Silverstein.
Silverstein, it seems to me, is the great unsung hero of the Outlaw scene. He wrote for, and with, various outlaw-related artists including Jennings, Kristofferson and Cash and apart from supplying Bare’s best material, he did the same for Jennings’ cohort Tompall Glaser who also released a full album of Silverstein songs with Put Another Log on the Fire appearing on the the seminal Wanted: The Outlaws album.
In later years Silverstein supplied the songs for the Old Dogs album, a sorta-kinda Outlaw supergroup featuring Jennings and Bare with Merle Tillis and Jerry Reed. But back in 1970, pretty much Outlaw Year Zero (also released that year were Waylon’s transitional Singer of Sad Songs and Kris’ debut, Kristofferson), he wrote the song score to the movie Ned Kelly, starring Mick Jagger as the infamous Australian criminal. And you thought I was going to say “outlaw”.
The album credits Waylon Jennings as the main performer – in fact while he sings the lion’s share of the tracks, Kris Kristofferson takes three, stealing the show on Son of a Scoundrel while fledgling Nashville journeyman Tom Ghent handles the movie’s end title song Hey Ned. Jagger’s underwhelming onscreen performance of The Wayfaring Stranger also features, sounding out of place not least because it’s sourced from the mono location recording and processed for stereo here.
Silverstein’s songs are terrific, with the production (by Ron Haffkine) and arrangements absolutely in step with Jennings’ burgeoning movement. The lyrics reflect the film’s narrative but the songs work independently of the source material, together serving as a concept album. Shadow of the Gallows and Lonegan’s Widow are wonderful tracks, which would and should belong on any “Best Of Waylon Jennings” compilation. Waylon’s singing on Pleasures Of A Sunday Afternoon is gorgeous, a reminder of just how technically good he was. Son of a Scoundrel is an unsubtle, raucous take on Australian ancestry with Kris on fine form, as he is on The Kellys Keep Coming, an atmospheric spoken word piece with a barroom crowd chorus.
The LP cover is quite the piece of misdirection, utilising the movie poster to the effect that you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a Mick Jagger album (a cynically packaged CD reissue in the mid ’90s repeated the conceit without even the excuse of using the original poster). I don’t think the album is currently available but it is absolutely worth tracking down (prices for the vinyl seem to start at around £20, which is roughly what my copy, in excellent condition, set me back a couple of years ago). It’s a hell of a record, ripe for rediscovery.