Director: Robert Altman
Stars: Keith Carradine, Karen Black, Ronee Blakley, Shelley Duvall, Allen Garfield
Genre: Drama, Music
Rating: R (Restricted)
Runtime: 160 minutes

Great singer, good songwriter, underrated guitar player: Nashville Rebel supplies ample evidence that Waylon Jennings (1937-2003) was one of country music's best. Although the time frame (from 1970 to 1984) of this hour-long, 18-song collection is pretty narrow in the context of his entire career, it's revealing. When Jennings sang "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line" on Johnny Cash's TV show in '70, he had already recorded at least ten albums (he'd also been in Buddy Holly's backing band, and had famously given up his seat on the plane that crashed with Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson on board) and was still a fairly standard, pompadoured product of the Nashville assembly line. But just four years later, as we see in four songs taken from Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, he'd become the bearded, long-haired outlaw who helped bring country to the rock 'n' roll generation. Notwithstanding some great pedal steel guitar playing by Ralph Mooney, these latter performances are subdued, maybe too much so, but Jennings' charisma and talent are still apparent. Much better are the five previously-unseen tunes from a TV show produced by singer-record producer (and Waylon's brother-in-law) Jack Clement, which include "Lonesome, "On'ry and Mean" and "Amanda" and find Jennings and his band sounding a good deal more lively and committed. And best of all are the last five live tunes, which include Jennings' most popular material, like "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)," "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys," "Good-Hearted Woman," and "Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way" (the final selections include three videos and two TV commercials). Although Jennings went on to form the Highwaymen with Cash, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson, he never got the crossover acclaim that came to the others. That could be because he wasn't as iconic as Cash, as gregarious as Nelson, or a movie star like Kristofferson; or perhaps it was due to his substance abuse problems. Whatever, Waylon Jennings, a rebel indeed, is well-served by this release. --Sam Graham

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