Released in 1972, Good Hearted Woman found Waylon Jennings making large strides in the direction towards the Outlaw Movement for which he’s most associated. Songwriting credits from the likes of Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson were paramount in making the musical shift.
Chet Atkins enlisted Ronnie Light to produce the project after Danny Davis exited the fold to focus his attention on his Brass Band. Jennings noted he put Light through hell during production although his anger was directed at the musicians who didn’t truly understand his artistic vision.
The #3 peaking title track served as the album’s first single. Famous for a version that featured Jennings singing with his co-writer Willie Nelson, “Good Hearted Woman” is presented here with Jennings singing solo (the duet came three years later on Wanted! The Outlaws). The background vocalists are dated and distracting, but the track is otherwise perfect.
Jennings solely penned the harmonica laced “Do No Good Woman” while Nelson took a sole writing credit on “It Should Be Easier Now.” The pedal steel soaked Nelson composition afforded Jennings the opportunity to give a tour de force vocal performance while his own track feels a bit run of the mill.
Chip Taylor and Al Gorgoni’s shuffle “Sweet Dream Woman” peaked at #7. The pesky background vocalists rear their ugly heads again, but other than that the track is excellent. I love Jennings’ vocal, too, but I get the sense he was being constricted. If I had to guess, I bet he would’ve desired to cut loose a lot more than he was able to.
Kristofferson composed the album’s closing track, the excellent recitation “To Beat the Devil.” Jennings’ baritone is the perfect vehicle to convey the story, about a man who happens upon a tavern on a cold winter’s night.
Harlan Howard contributed the honky-tonker “One of my Bad Habits.” With an ear-catching chugging beat the track details the plight of a man coming clean about his reckless behaviors (smoking, drinking, his woman) and trying to do something about them. I love the bright production, complete with both steel and twangy guitars.
Swamp rocker Tony Joe White contributed “Willie and Laura Mae Jones,” one of the album’s standout tracks. White composed the masterful lyric, about a friendship between a white family and their black neighbors, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement; three years prior to the release of Good Hearted Woman. The subtly is masterful. With just one line (‘that was another place, another time’) he’s able to get his message across beautifully.
Canadian Folk-Rocker Gordon Lightfoot graces Good Hearted Woman with his stone country ballad “Same Old Lover Man.” The tender qualities in the lyric and production are equally matched in Jennings’ vocal, which makes use of his higher register. There’s nothing wrong with the track but in the context of the album it feels a bit too light.
“Unsatisfied” is a more typical ballad, with Jennings using his lower register to convey the lyric. While I was listening the melody seemed somewhat familiar and it came to me. To my ears the track is similar to Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey,” which might’ve been intentional or just something I heard. Otherwise, it’s a solid recording.
“I Knew You’d Be Leavin’” is another ballad, but unlike the previous two, has a peppier production that really caught my ear. I wasn’t fond of Jennings’ vocal, it seemed to low for my tastes, but the track itself is very good.
Good Hearted Woman is a wonderful album and well worth checking out to get a better view of Jennings’ recorded output during this era of his career. The proceedings are too clean and careful and “Willie Mae and Laura Jones” should’ve been the album’s second single. But I would still recommend this album as it is another strong entry in Jennings’ discography.