On June 2nd, before Country Exclusive came into existence, two country legends released a collaboration album entitled Django and Jimmie. Like several other earlier albums I have covered, this one certainly deserves a review. It hit #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums Chart and has held its own well against several radio-supported albums that have come out since. It is currently also at #11 on the Americana Airplay Chart. (I don’t know what the world is coming to when Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard are considered Americana, and Thomas Rhett’s latest single is considered country, but whatever.) Chart performance aside, however, this album deserves a review if for no other reason than it was released by two living legends. It reminds us that country radio can continue down the path to hell, but there will always be good country music being made. Modern country fans, I urge you to give this album a listen and appreciate these living legends while they are still with us.
The album’s title track and opener is a tribute to Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers, Willie and Merle’s inspirations. They sing, “There might not have been a Merle or a Willie if not for Django and Jimmie.” By the way, there are two things that immediately hit me from the start of this record; their friendship and musical chemistry is palpable, and their voices, though seasoned, are still great. Next is a fun, upbeat little song called “It’s All Going to Pot,” that hopefully I don’t need to elaborate on if you know anything about Willie Nelson. The instrumentation in this song, much like the rest of the album, is great, and some awesomeness is added to the song by its release date of April 20th.
The album turns serious on “Unfair Weather Friend,” a song about the ones who are there for us during life’s hardest times. This song is made better coming from Willie and Merle, whom I am sure have been there for each other throughout their lives. They pay tribute to another friend in “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash,” a humorous ode to the Man in Black in which they share personal stories and memories. My favorit part of this album is here–Merle asks Willie if he knows anything about Cash, and Willie replies, “Well, yeah, I know a lot of things about Cash, I’m not sure I should talk about it. But I checked with John and asked if it was okay and he said he didn’t give a shit. One time he took a casket up to his hotel room and got into it and called room service. I thought that was pretty funny.” This is just awesome.
“Live This Long” sees the two legends looking back on their lives and reflecting that they might not have lived as hard if they had known they’d live this long. I’m not sure how serious this is and whether they really would have changed one bit about the way they lived. “Alice in Hulaland” is about a fan who goes to all of a band’s shows. They speculate, “Are you there for the melody, there for the lyric, or just for the boys in the band?” It’s a nice, lighthearted track with plenty of steel guitar that I was surprised to have enjoyed so much. Next is an excellent cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” a song dealing with a bad relationship where they say “don’t think twice, it’s all right” as they leave. All I can say is take note, mainstream country artists, this is how to do a cover. It fits them perfectly and works well on the album.
“Family Bible” features Merle primarily and is a song reflecting back on childhood memories of his family reading the Bible together. This is extremely relatable and feels like hearing your grandparents’ memories, only in a song. It borrows a little of the melody from the hymn “Rock of Ages,” and I could picture my uncle singing this at his piano. I think it will connect with others in similar ways. “It’s Only Money” works well after this song–it’s an up-tempo song with the premise, “It’s only money, it will go away.” It’s nice to hear this from these two, and I don’t think it was placed after “Family Bible” by accident. Also, there is a saxophone in this song that just works beautifully, as well as some outstanding country piano playing. Next, they nail Merle’s hit “Swinging Doors,” where a man hangs out in a bar because he doesn’t feel welcome at home. Mainstream country artists, this is how to sing a heartbreak/drinking song. (Cole Swindell, I am looking right at “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey” here.)
“Where Dreams Come to Die” is an intriguing song about just that–the place where hopes and dreams are shattered. This is one of the “deeper” songs on the album, but it was easy to connect with for me, and I think many more will be able to relate to it as well. “Somewhere Between” is just Willie, which I find a little perplexing and out of place on a Willie/Merle album. Still, it’s a good heartbreak song in which Willie says there’s a wall “somewhere between” him and the woman he loves, with a “door without any key.” This is a good song with some excellent songwriting, but I would have liked it even better if Merle had joined in. It’s hard to say exactly what “Driving the Herd” is about, but I think “the herd” is the people at the shows. Merle and Willie talk about singing and playing from the heart while they’re “driving the herd.” My interpretation could be totally wrong, but even if so, the song has some of the best instrumentation and vocals on the whole album. The album closes with “The Only Man Wilder Than Me,” where the two friends sing of each other; each calls the other “the only man wilder than me.” It’s a great way to close this album of friendship.
Overall, Django and Jimmie is an excellent album. Willie Nelson is 82, and Merle Haggard is 78, yet their voices, though they sound seasoned, don’t reflect their ages at all. The songwriting on this album is stellar, yet still simple and relatable. This is what country music is all about. If someone asks you what “country” means, you can point to this album–simple arrangements, relatable songwriting, and great storytelling. One of the best albums of the year so far.