There’s a new outlaw in town. And it comes courtesy of Texas music star Mark Chesnutt.
“Outlaw” is the newest CD by the Beaumont native. Its Tuesday release will make available some of the great tunes first made famous by other Texas artists, including the original Outlaws.
“I was listening to rock, when Willie and Waylon grew their hair long,” he said. “I remember Mama and Daddy saying ‘they done gone hippie on us.’ I saw all that taking place, and I thought it was great.
“When I was asked to do this album, it was very natural. I know all those old songs. It was fun for me. I knew it was going to be different.”
From the opening song – Billy Joe Shaver’s “Black Rose” – to Guy Clark’s haunting “Desperados Waiting on a Train,” Chesnutt takes us on a musical journey through all the emotions that were first presented in the 1970s by the original Outlaws.
Chesnutt said, “Anybody can do the anthems. Anyone who doesn’t know anything about the history of country music could do ‘Good Hearted Woman.’”
Chesnutt and his producer wanted to go deeper. Many of the songs were hits, but not considered anthems. They wanted to display the musical movement that went beyond just the commercial aspect.
One of perhaps the most surprising songs in the collection is Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”
“Those songs were in the middle of that movement,” Chesnutt said. “These songs about being stoned were not comfortable for Nashville at the time. These are deep songs that were not intended as dance tunes.”
His personal favorite song on the CD is a different Kristofferson offering, “Lovin’ Her Was Easier.” He heard Waylon Jennings do it, but never considered it to fit his own style.
“I thought it was a little deep for me,” Chesnutt commented. “All these years later, it seemed to make more sense for me now. It seemed to make more sense to me now. I really loved the way that song came out.”
One of the things that helped Chesnutt achieve the sound on the album was the ability to record the songs he calls “the old way.” Musicians recorded their tracks during normal daylight hours. Chesnutt would then go to the studio late at night and lay down his vocals. He credits that to his love of Texas honky tonks.
“There’s just something not natural about singing in the daytime,” he said.
The result is a product that remains true to Chesnutt’s reputation as a country music traditionalist. All but one of the 12 tracks are Chesnutt alone. The 12th track, “A Couple More Years,” is a duet with Amber Digby. Chesnutt had listened to her on Willie’s Place satellite program, and watched her on TV. But this was the first time for the two to collaborate.
“I like the way she sings in unison, rather than harmony,” he said. “It really makes the song feel more real.”
Chesnutt sees the tribute to the outlaw movement as more than just a history lesson.
“We’ve done things here in Texas the way the outlaws did them all along. This is where the outlaw movement came from. If they hadn’t come to Texas, I don’t know where Texas music would be today.”
Among the changes the outlaws brought was the ability to produce songs the way the artist wants to.
“Labels were the boss, the producers were the boss. You showed up in the studio of their choice, sang in their key, with their musicians,” Chesnutt said. “Everybody – especially Waylon – got sick of that. That story of Waylon bringing a pistol to the studio was true! In Texas, they came down and did it their own way. That’s what this album is about, capturing that free spirit.”
Texas is now home to many musical genres. Are there new outlaws today? Chesnutt is hard pressed, but points to two: Jamey Johnson and Miranda Lambert.
He said, “Jamey is doing it his way, singing songs about getting drunk, getting stoned and going to prison. He is one of the few who you could call a modern outlaw. Miranda is another one. She writes her own songs about shooting guns and kicking butt. Those two are doing it their way. It hasn’t been easy for them.”
As for himself, Chesnutt is happy where he is. He lives in Beaumont, he tours, and knows that at some point he will be back in the studio, recording. He attributes his success and longevity to “being hard headed and stubborn.”
And he is ready for the world to hear his latest creation, when it is released on Tuesday. “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound,” “Bloody Mary Morning,” and “Need a Little Time Off for Bad Behavior” are three more of the outlaw songs on the CD. As Chesnutt says, these are the types of songs that were written in the back of the bus, in the hotel room, by a writer who might be sober, might be drunk.
“Outlaw” is a fantastic example of some of the not-too-distant roots of today’s Texas music. And it shows that the songs that were popular 30 years ago are still just as good today.
Posted by: Sam Moore