Yeah I know what you’re thinking, because I was thinking the same thing at first. “It takes a lot of guts to make country music with the name Waylon.” There are quite a few Hanks in country music, multiple legends named Johnny, and even a couple of Merles. But Waylon? There’s only one of them. Waylon Jennings named his own son Waylon, and even he goes by Shooter. There’s Waylon Payne, but when your mother’s Sammi Smith and your father’s Jody Payne, you can pull it off.
Ultimately though, what’s in a name? It probably got you to pay attention. And whether the name “Waylon” was truly pegged to him at birth or adopted in homage to The Hoss, it’s the music that should speak for Michigan-native Waylon Hanel, not the name. He’s a self-taught musician inspired by the Outlaws of country music like Waylon, Billy Joe Shaver, and Johnny Paycheck, and he’s looking to help continue that lineage into the future on his second EP-length album, New Old Outlaws.
The title track to this seven-song album is just about what you would expect from a guy named Waylon. Attitudinal and Outlaw, it’s one of those country songs that puffs its chest out, proclaims what is and isn’t country, and generally speaking, is the style of country protest song that has grown a bit tired and trite over the years. That said, “They ain’t making any new old Outlaws any more” is a damn good hook for a country song. And if your name is Waylon, it’s pretty much required you record one of these songs at some point.
But the dudes out there braying on and on about how badass they are and trying to work “you can kiss my ass” into verses are a dime a dozen, while the folks that actually know a thing or two about country music Outlaws know that ballads and heartfelt songs were just as much a part of the era, if not more than self-affirming country rock odes employing angry guitar tones. Luckily, Waylon Hanel knows this too.
Between two versions of “New Old Outlaws,” Waylon includes a handful of really well-written country songs that belie what your early assumptions of this artist may be. “Gypsy Angel” about the reasons life tests our sobriety is a great little country track. “Concrete Pastures” about how progress paves over our memories is also top quality writing. “Where Are You Tonight” is a straight up heartbreaker. And even though the Spanish textures of “Too Late To Turn Back Now” may be a little much, once again the writing resounds.
New Old Outlaws is one of those albums where someone outside of Nashville travels down to Music City to make a country album the right way. In this instance, Waylon Hanel worked with well-known songwriter and performer Bernie Nelson as producer and co-writer to make sure these songs were rendered perfectly and the writing was tight throughout.
Despite the name of the artist and the title of the album, this really isn’t Outlaw country aside from the title track. It’s just good country music, period. “We’ve Lived Those Songs (Back Then)” could be a country radio hit with its monster chorus, but remains traditional with the prominent steel guitar. New Old Outlaws is good stuff cover to cover. About the only qualm is a common one with 7-song albums: you just want a little more.
Ultimately, being an Outlaw or following in Waylon’s footsteps isn’t about a specific sound, style, or approach. It’s all about being true to yourself, and sounding country while doing it. That’s what Waylon Hanel pulls off on New Old Outlaws.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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