While known as one of the purest country vocalists of the last 20 years, Mark Chesnutt’s heroes are country with a bit of a rock and roll. These heroes are Waylon, Willie, Kris, David Allen Coe and Merle Haggard. It’s exactly why this collection of his heroes’ best songs is simply titled Outlaw. Mark and his wife even named his first child Waylon Nelson after Waylon and Willie and their deep influence, while always present in Chesnutt’s music, is given a proper treatment here.
The record starts off with “Black Rose,” a tune written and originally made popular by Billy Joe Shaver. It features sawin’ fiddles and a stellar vocal from Chesnutt, the same thing which can be said about the Hank Williams, Jr. classic “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound.” Waylon’s “Only Daddy That Will Walk The Line” is next and Chesnutt sounds particularly invigorated on this one, a tune he’s sang live for as long as he’s been singing country music.
A Couple More Years” is a Shel Silverstein co-write that has been recorded by folks like Dr. Hook, Jerry Lee Lewis and as a duet by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. It’s a fine duet here with Texan Amber Digby and works remarkably well in this context while “Neeed A Little Time off For Bad Behavior” is a song that was a big ole hit for David Allan Coe. The instrumental grooves laid down by the band and expertly guided by Pete Anderson are a highlight here and this song, if given a chance by radio, could help Mark Chesnutt get another hit.
While most of these songs aren’t the most well-known ‘hits’ by Mark Chesnutt’s heroes, there are a couple seminal songs on the album along with “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound” in a sweeping and loving version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and Waylon’s “Are You Ready For The Country,” a song written by rock icon Neil Young. Add another Kris Kristofferson gem in “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” and you’ve got a trio of tracks as legendary as any trio of tracks to be recorded on an album in 2010. Add Chesnutt’s golden voice to the mix and what we’re left with is an unbelievably sturdy album.
Willie Nelson’s “Bloody Mary Morning” and Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waiting For A Train” are brilliantly written songs (something that can be confidentially said about the whole album, really) and they help close out the record on a high note. There’s nothing not to like about this record, particularly if you’re a fan of ‘outlaw’ country music, Mark Chesnutt or just damn good country music. It’s certainly one of the year’s best albums from country music’s best vocalists.