There are few accolades and praises left that haven't been heaped upon Willie Nelson or Merle Haggard. These two men have cemented their legacies as two of the best and brightest that country music has to offer. If there was ever a Mount Rushmore of country music, these two would be two of the highest vote-getters to be honored. When you gain living legend status as these two have, it is easy to kick back and rest on your laurels. Not the case here. Willie and Merle's new duets album Django And Jimmie recently hit number one on the Billboard Country Albums Chart, proving that these two legends still have plenty of gas in the tank.
Django and Jimmie gets its title from the artists that Merle and Willie claim to be their inspiration. Merle Haggard looks to the singing brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers. Rodgers was arguably the first country music star, as his "Blue Yodel" series blended the folk sounds of Appalachia with the blues sounds of the time. Thus, country music was born. When Merle lets loose in his higher register yodel, you can hear the influence plain as day. Willie takes his inspiration from French guitarist Django Reinhardt, who was a pioneer of the art of acoustic guitar playing. In the title track to the album, they claim that "there might not have been a Merle or a Willie, if not for Django and Jimmie". I can't think of a higher compliment than that. Rather than name drop their heroes superficially as many modern artists would do, they give them all the credit for their careers. Along those same lines comes the tune "Missing Ol' Johnny Cash". Both artists have a strong connection to the Man in Black, as Willie was a member of The Highwaymen with him, and Merle was in attendance as an inmate during one of Cash's famed prison concerts. The song is a fun look back at the life and legacy of Cash, with some humorous stories thrown in. Bobby Bare pops in the make a guest appearance on the song as well. Other standouts include "Somewhere Between", a haunting ballad that Willie takes the lead on, "Where Dreams Go To Die", which is about as sad and depressing as a country song can get (which makes it awesome), and "The Only Man Wilder Than Me, which is a fun back and forth between the two old buddies. The cover songs on the album work extremely well. Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" is a classic, and this version of it lives up to the great song. They also do one cover of each of the two's hits. They take on Willie's "Family Bible" and Merle's "Swinging Doors", both to fantastic results. Even the cliche song on the album works. Hey, Willie smokes weed! Did you know that? Of course, the Willie/weed reference is wore thin and way overblown in the media, but 'll be darned if "It's All Going To Pot" isn't still a great song. It is a lot of fun and makes you smile, even if the theme is less than original.
The best song on the album is far and away "Unfair Weather Friend". The song is pretty much exactly what you would expect when two old buddies like this get together. The song is an ode to friendship through the good and the bad. We all have one or two friends that are there for the hard times, not just the good ones. This song pays tribute to those friends. Although neither Merle or Willie wrote it, the sincerity with which they bring the lyrics home really brings the song to life. You know that these two have lived it and experienced it. That is what makes an album like this enjoyable. Along those same lines, "Live This Long" is a retrospective look back at some of their wilder times, claiming they would have taken better care of themselves "if we had known we were gonna live this long." They also make a clever tip of the hat to their previous hits with the line "kicking out the footlights, living the night life", which references Merle's "Footlights" and Willie's "Night Life". That's a nice touch for hardcore fans to seek out.
While I have nothing but good things to say about this album, to think it will go down in history as one of their bests is not really plausible. Django And Jimmie is good. Real good. But, these are two of the best artists in American history. As a new 2015 album, I love it. As far as the legacy of these artist, it will probably fit somewhere in the middle. That's perfectly ok. These guys have absolutely nothing left to prove and nobody to convince of their greatness. At this point, they are just making the music they want and enjoying themselves, and we are the ones benefiting. I hope that people realize how great it is still seeing the legacies unfold of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard before it is too late. This album hitting the top of the Billboard Country Albums Chart was icing on the cake. We keep hearing about how nobody wants to listen to traditional country, yet the albums keep showing up at the top of the charts. There is a strong and dedicated audience for this kind of music, and the charts prove it. Overall, Django And Jimmie proves that ol' Pancho and Lefty have still got it and can still make great music. If you are a fan of either artist, or just country music in general, this is an album you need to hear, just to appreciate these legends who are still on top of their game.
Standout Tracks: "Django And Jimmie", "Unfair Weather Friend", "Live This Long", "Missing Ol' Johnny Cash", "Somewhere Between", "Family Bible", "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright", "Swinging Doors"
"Unfair Weather Friend"
"Django And Jimmie"
"It's All Going To Pot"
"Don't Think Twice, It's Alright"