McNally lives long on "The Waylon Sessions" – September 2021
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McNally lives long on "The Waylon Sessions"  Print

By Brian Baker, September 2021

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"Jessi said to me that she'd never heard a woman sing any of this stuff, she wouldn't have done it, and she didn't know who could," says McNally. "And she thought Waylon would have been tickled that a woman had done it."

Another interesting component of "The Waylon Sessions" is the male vocalists that McNally chose as guests. Buddy Miller, Rodney Crowell and Lukas Nelson are fairly well known for their collaborative skills with women, but McNally insists that wasn't a consideration when she sought their participation.

"I hadn't thought about that, but maybe I'm friends with all of them because they do," says McNally. "I picked them specifically because I wanted there to be a separation, and they have the right timbre in their voices. Like the Billy Joe Shaver songs; who would you get to sing those? Buddy Miller was the only person in my mind. If it's not Billy Joe Shaver standing next to me, I want it to be someone I trust just as much, and that's Buddy. Rodney is a really good friend; he had a lot to do with me moving to Nashville and, of course, he wrote 'Ain't Livin' Long Like This.'"

McNally's choice of Lukas Nelson reveals yet another layer of her intentions with "The Waylon Sessions" and how deeply she considered her tribute's philosophical structure.

"Part of picking Lukas was that Waylon always had a posse," says McNally. "He wasn't out there by himself with a guitar, he was out with a horde of hoodlums. I wanted to have fun and have some friends around because that was an important part of what Waylon did. And nobody says 'Waylon Jennings' without thinking of Willie Nelson and vice versa. And I didn't just do songs Waylon wrote, I did songs that were Waylon-adjacent. 'You Show Me Yours and I'll Show You Mine' is a Kris Kristofferson song that Willie had a hit with, same as 'Help Me Make It Through the Night.' I wanted some of that Nelson bravado; when Lukas turns that on, he does it as good as anybody."

When McNally finished the lightning four-day recording schedule for "The Waylon Sessions," she had a little better understanding of her hero as an artist, an entertainer and a man after inhabiting his songs.

"Waylon enjoyed a real kind of freedom," she notes. "Maybe not later in life, when his body was catching up to him and his health was failing. But in his prime, he felt real freedom and that's what everyone wants. The world was his oyster, and not everybody gets to appreciate what that feels like. When one of Waylon's songs comes on the radio, you always feel a little danger, in a really good way, in a way you might not have to spend the night in jail for."

As to the universality of Waylon Jennings' appeal even now, nearly 20 years after his death, Shannon McNally might understand that best of all. "He was a cowboy and an Indian."

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