Shannon McNally – The Waylon Sessions (2021) [FLAC 24bit/96kHz]

Shannon McNally – The Waylon Sessions (2021)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 47:30 minutes | 1,02 GB | Genre: Country
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © Compass Records

2021 release. Recorded with an all-star band and featuring special guests like Jessi Colter, Buddy Miller, Rodney Crowell, and Lukas Nelson, Shannon McNally’s extraordinary collection, The Waylon Sessions, isn’t so much a tribute to Waylon Jennings as it is a recontextualization: a nuanced, feminine rendering of a catalog long considered a bastion of hetero-masculinity. That’s not to say McNally has a softer, gentler take on the songs of Jennings and his outlaw compatriots here; in fact, just the opposite. Over and over again, she manages to locate a smoldering intensity – a searing hurt buried deep within the music’s deceptively simple poetry – and she hones in on it with a surgical precision. McNally doesn’t swap pronouns or couch her delivery with a wink; she simply plays it straight, singing her truth as a divorced single mother in her 40’s in all it’s beauty, pain, and power. The result is that rare covers record that furthers our understanding of the originals, an album of classics that challenges our perceptions and assumptions about just what made them classics in the first place.

Collective wisdom tells us that in life, timing is everything. And that—the perfect moment in a varied career, the right amount of gravitas and nerve—seems to be the secret ingredient in the The Waylon Sessions. Asked to explain why this was the right time to make an album that simultaneously honors and amends the Waylon Jennings catalog Shannon McNally declared: “Maybe I hadn’t done enough damage yet or lived enough to own that flat-footed-there’s-the-door-if-you-don’t-like-it kind of songs. I mean, I’ve always had a big personality but it wasn’t that big. It wasn’t West Texas big.”

McNally, the smoky, Americana-focused contralto who was born on Long Island and had stints in New Orleans and Los Angeles before settling in Nashville, shrewdly built a career out of connections with the likes of Dave Alvin, Dr. John, Jim Dickinson, and Rodney Crowell. To bring out what she calls the “feminine perspective” on Waylon’s rollicking, testosterone-driven roadhouse songs McNally has assembled a talented supporting cast. Produced by the singer and recorded mostly in Nashville, The Waylon Sessions, dedicated to Waylon and Billy Joe Shaver, was captured by several engineers including the great Clarke Rigsby. Tasked with blending these sessions, mix engineer Trina Shoemaker finds a successful, punchy balance between McNally’s voice and the band. And what a band! Led by primo Nashville session guitarist Kenny Vaughan, it includes West Texas keyboard player Bukka Allen and ex-Waylon bandmate, harmonica/pedal steel player Fred Newell. Guests Buddy Miller and Lukas Nelson both add harmony vocals.

Chock full of can’t miss Waylon’s hits, McNally hews close to the tempos and arrangements of the originals in, “I’ve Always Been Crazy,” “I’m a Ramblin’ Man,” and “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line.” In between, her female viewpoint brings new poignance to lesser-known numbers like “Out Among the Stars” and “Waltz Me To Heaven.” Billy Joe Shaver’s “Black Rose,” with Buddy Miller on low strung guitar, is given a suitably rousing rendition. Though McNally tries her best to bring something new to the Urban Cowboy anthem “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” it’s the album’s only stumble. (With so many other better choices why try and reheat this overexposed chestnut?) That aside, several numbers still manage to stand out in this collection of highlights including a heartfelt, “We Had It All,” (written by the late great Donnie Fritts) and her bravura vocal performance on Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” It’s fitting given their long friendship that the knockout punch here is a rockin’ version of Crowell’s “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” where the songwriter steps in to sing a verse. Kudos to McNally for sensing that the time was right—in the world and her career—to make this a triumph. – Robert Baird


1. Shannon McNally – I’ve Always Been Crazy
2. Shannon McNally – You Asked Me To
3. Shannon McNally – Out Among The Stars
4. Shannon McNally – You Show Me Yours And I’ll Show You Mine
5. Shannon McNally – Black Rose
6. Shannon McNally – This Time
7. Shannon McNally – I Ain’t Living Long Like This
8. Shannon McNally – I’m a Ramblin’ Man
9. Shannon McNally – Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys
10. Shannon McNally – Help Me Make It Through The Night
11. Shannon McNally – We Had It All
12. Shannon McNally – Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line (Bonus Track)
13. Shannon McNally – Waltz Me To Heaven (Bonus Track)