Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard
Django and Jimmie
Django and Jimmie derives its title from the names of two of the biggest influences of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard – Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers.
It’s a fitting title, and not only because it doubles as the title track, which is a loving look back on the influence that two legendary artists had on another two legends in their own right.
At its best, Django and Jimmie tells the story of two great talents taking stock of the miles they’ve traveled. While the title track wonders if there ever would’ve been a Willie or a Merle if it wasn’t for Django and Jimmie, “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash” is a powerful tale of the Man in Black because it’s told by a true friend and contemporary of Cash’s, rather than the typical distance between hero and admirer that are so typical of songs about Cash these days.
The album’s two best moments celebrate the deep friendship and mutual understanding that the two men share. “Unfair Weather Friend” might be the best song about friendship that I’ve ever heard, and album closer “The Only Man Wilder than Me” lovingly cuts through the mythology that has been built around the two men, as they recognize each other to be gentle souls generally misunderstood as outlaws.
The title track wasn’t written by Nelson or Haggard, and there are other tracks on the album – “Live This Long” and “It’s all Going to Pot” – that also come from outside writers, but sound like they could’ve been originals from either of them. Thankfully, the two greatest living male songwriters the genre can claim do contribute some new songs. “Driving the Herd” is a unique celebration of what it means to get an audience riled up, and “Where Dreams Go to Die” has that odd combination of bitterness and optimism that only Willie Nelson can pull off.
Where the album falls a bit flat, surprisingly, are the covers. The duo’s take on the oft-covered Bob Dylan standard, “Don’t Think Twice, it’s All Right,” is by the numbers, and reveals nothing new about the song’s lyrics, unlike Dolly Parton’s nuanced take from last year. Revivals of Nelson’s “Family Bible” and Haggard’s “Swinging Doors” struggle in the same way. The songs have been recorded so many times, including by the men themselves, that on an album with so much interesting new material, those standards play like album filler.
But these are just nitpicks. Django and Jimmie is arguably the two’s best collaboration to date. No, it doesn’t hit the dizzying heights of the title track from their first collaboration, Pancho and Lefty, but it’s more consistently good than anything they’ve ever done together, and that’s saying a lot.
Recommended Tracks: “Unfair Weather Friend,” “The Only Man Wilder Than Me,” “Django and Jimmie,” “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash”