My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Folk Country’

folk countryDuring the mid-1960s RCA attempted to catch the dying embers of the ‘Hootenanny’ movement of the early 1960s by positioning their artists to appeal to both country and folk audiences. Obviously this wasn’t a strategy that could be employed for every RCA country artist, but there were some artists such as George Hamilton IV, Bobby Bare and Waylon Jennings who (sort of) straddled the line between folk and country.

Folk-Country was Waylon’s debut album for RCA, released in March 1966, preceded by 1965 chart singles “That’s The Chance I’ll Have To Take”, “Stop The World And Let Me Off” and “Anita You’re Dreaming”. The first two singles would show up on Waylon’s debut album.

Around the time Folk-Country was released, RCA had signed Don Bowman to the label. Bowman and Jennings had been friends for a number of years and Bowman, an extraordinary comic (with a very offbeat sense of humor) and a pretty good songwriter, supplied Waylon with three songs on the debut album.

The album opens up with the Harlan Howard tune “Another Bridge To Burn” which most will remember as the title song of a Ray Price album from 1966. Ray included the song in his live performances, but the only charting single of the song was by Little Jimmy Dickens who hit #28 in 1963. Piano and background singers dominate the arrangement and Waylon sings it well but the song would work better with different instrumentation.

“Stop The World and Let Me Off”, a Carl Belew classic, was Waylon’s first top twenty single, reaching #16. I think Waylon’s version is the definitive version of the song.

Waylon had a hand in writing several songs on this album. “Cindy of New Orleans” was a solo endeavor by Jennings. It has a very folk arrangement with an acoustic guitar arrangement . The song is a flip on the usual theme of the woman waiting her lover to return:

One day a riverboat gambler chanced by
And captured her heart with his sweet words and lies
He told her come with me and you’ll be a queen
So they left together to see New Orleans
Each day you can see Jim though years have gone by
Down by the river where the big boats go by
She wrote she’d return at the first sign of spring
He’s waiting for Cindy to see New Orleans

“Look Into My Teardrops” was one of Conway Twitty’s early efforts to have a country hit, barely cracking the top forty . Written by Don Bowman and Harlan Howard, it has always been one of my favorite Conway Twitty recordings. Waylon does a fine job on the song, although the song fits Conway’s voice better. Harmonica and acoustic guitar dominate the arrangement:

Look into my teardrops
And darlin’ you will see
The reflection of an angel
That made a fool of me

Look into my teardrops
And you will see the eyes
That promised me so many things
But all of them were lies

Look into my teardrops
The mirror of my soul
And you will see the girl
Who’s still my only world but I couldn’t hold

“Down Came the World” is a Bozo Darnell-Waylon Jennings collaboration. The song is a mid-tempo ballad about a love gone wrong.

Not everything from the pen of Harlan Howard was a classic, as witness “I Don’t Mind”. It is not a bad song, it’s just nothing special, a typical jog-along ballad about a man wronged by a woman.

“Just for You” was a Waylon Jennings, Don Bowman and Jerry Williams collaboration:

Do you ever think about the one who thinks about you
Do you ever wonder dear why he’s always waiting here for you
In spite of all the things you’ve said and done I’m a fool and you’re the only one
I’ll keep waiting while you’ll have your fun just for you
Can’t you see you’re a part of me and everything I do
And every dream I dream is just for you
Do you ever think about the one who thinks about you
Do you ever wonder dear why he’s always waiting here for you
It makes no difference what you do or say I’ll be waiting here the same old way
Living every moment of each day just for you

Don Bowman was the sole writer of “Now Everybody Knows”. This song is about a woman who makes no effort to hide her philandering ways.

The first single off the album was Waylon’s solo composition “That’s the Chance I’ll Have to Take”, which nudged onto the charts at #49. It is an excellent song that might have been a substantial hit had it been released later in Waylon’s career. Quite a few artists covered the song as an album track, most notably Charley Pride, whose version rivals Waylon’ as the definitive version of the song:

Troubles and a worried mind
It seems that’s all I’ve ever known
But now I’ll leave that all behind
If you’ll just leave me alone.

And if I go on loving you
If to leave is a mistake
If I’m wrong in what I do
That’s the chance I’ll have to take

“What Makes a Man Wander” is a Harlan Howard composition that I first heard performed by Harlan’s then-wife Jan Howard. I think the song works a little better sung from the distaff side, but Waylon acquits himself well on the song:

What makes me wanna roam
When I got so much love at home
What makes a man wander
What makes a man wander?
The whistle of a train
Does something to my brain
What makes a man wander
What makes a man wander?

The first version of “Man of Constant Sorrow” that I recall hearing was Waylon’s version of the song. WCMS disc jockey “Carolina Charlie” Wiggs liked Waylon’s version of the song and played it occasionally. To this day, I still like Waylon’s understated version of the song better than any of the more bombastic versions.

The album closes with the Harlan Howard composition “What’s Left of Me” , a wry ballad:

I’ve been cheated, mistreated, broken man, defeated
No one wanted or needed any part of me
I’ve been bothered and shattered till my heart’s torn and tattered
Baby, are you sure you want what’s left of me?
I’ve been busted, disgusted, hurt by those I trusted
There’s a big old hurt inside where my heart should be
I’ve been lied on and cried on, cheated on and spited on
Even dogs think that I’m a tree
Baby, are you sure you want what’s left of me?

There was a tendency for RCA recording artists to have musical accompaniments that sounded very similar. This was due to the use of RCA’s studio musicians. While RCA had some truly excellent musicians in its stable, the use of these musicians (along with string and choral arrangements) resulted in recordings whose sound the artists could not replicate in live performance. Waylon (along with Willie Nelson and some others) would address this problem in the future, but at this stage of the game, none of them had sufficient leverage (or a sufficient track record) to exert that kind of influence.

Because RCA was pushing this album as folk-country, the arrangements are less cluttered than the usual RCA recordings, but even with the semi-folk arrangements, the likes of the Anita Kerr Singers can be heard. Truly distinctive voices such as Waylon Jennings and Charley Pride could cut through the background clutter, but most of the smooth voiced vocalists (Eddy Arnold, Stu Phillips, Jim Ed Brown) tended to make recordings that any other similar such artist could have recorded. Even such unique vocalists as Don Gibson and Hank Locklin tended to get lost in the accompaniment.

That said, Waylon’s vocals make any of his albums stand out from the usual RCA fare, and the album contains a number of interesting lyrics. I would not regard Folk-Country as one of Waylon’s best albums, but it is a very good one that bears repeated play. I’d give it a B+ and I am grading on a downward curve. There are many successful performers who never make an album as good as Folk-Country. Mercifully, RCA gave up on the folk-country concept and started cutting Waylon with more straight-forward country arrangements. Acoustic six and twelve string guitars appear throughout this album but if there was any fiddle or steel guitar, I missed it.

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One response to “Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Folk Country’

  1. Ken August 10, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    The “Folk Country” label created by RCA Victor was actually more of a marketing strategy than a specific musical style. It was a no risk proposition for RCA to brand some of their appropriate country product with that term. Country fans generally did not find the word “folk” offensive but it might catch the eye of Folk fans who would otherwise not consider giving those artists a spin. However in the case of this album the phrase was a mighty stretch. As Paul mentioned most of the songs had the typical mid-1960’s slick “Nashville Sound” production adorned with background singers. Though a couple of the songs might be considered “folk” lyrically, the majority of the musical arrangements did not support the branding.

    My favorite song on this LP is the ultra-twangy “Stop The World (And Let Me Off).” Waylon was a Johnnie & Jack fan and his revival of their 1958 hit sounded more like Buck Owens’ Bakersfield twang than Folk or The Nashville Sound.

    From the late 1950’s until the late 1960’s record labels released separate MONO and STEREO versions of albums. Older MONO phonographs were not compatible with new STEREO recordings so two versions of each LP became necessary. In most cases the basic recordings were pretty much the same although the MONO versions often had a slightly different final mix down to balance the sound to one channel. However on occasion completely different takes of the same song were issued for each configuration. That’s the case with “What Makes A Man Wander” on this album. There are several subtle differences in both versions as well a completely different guitar solo on the bridge. Both versions are worthy of your time though I’m partial to the twangier STEREO arrangement.

    “I’m A Man Of Constant Sorrow” also gets high marks from me. Written by Waylon this song should not be confused with the similarly titled Soggy Bottom Boys recording. I always thought Harlan Howard was channeling Roger Miller when he wrote “What’s Left Of Me.” Ray Stevens’ catchy piano triplets make it another memorable track.

    For his debut RCA Victor album Waylon turned out a first-rate effort with a cool cover photo. Though not his very best work it’s a solid introduction to a future legend.

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