Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson weathered storms—survived politics, broken hearts and rules with equal aplomb. At 78 and 82, like the best old bluesmen, they just chug on, grinding out songs and crisscrossing the highway making music. Veracity makes Django and Jimmie a marvel, mixing novelty, pathos and classics. What emerges is a core sample of what made these men—known for country classics from “Crazy,” “Bloody Mary Morning,” “Night Life” (Nelson) to “Mama Tried,” “Okie From Muskogee” and “Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” (Haggard)—endure for half a century.
Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s first album together, and their most commercially successful to date, was titled Pancho and Lefty, in 1983. The new one, essentially their sixth, has a similar format to its title: Django and Jimmie. Although the title track is no enigmatic classic like the Townes Van Zandt song, it’s more of a chance for two legends to reminisce about their musical influences.
Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard first teamed up on record for Pancho & Lefty in 1983, a record released some 20 years after both singers began their careers. Back then, they were both hovering around 50, already considered old guys, but Django and Jimmie arrives 32 years after that record, when there's no question that the pair are old-timers. Appropriately enough, mortality is on their minds throughout Django and Jimmie, a record whose very title is taken from Willie and Merle's childhood idols.
Willie Nelson & Merle HaggardDjango and Jimmie(Sony Legacy)Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars These two ageing journeymen country music outlaws have a long history together, first joining for 1983’s successful Poncho & Lefty release, and on occasional tours and projects since. The results have ranged from pretty good to pretty great. But even if there aren’t any surprises on this reunion of the grizzled twosome, it’s still a joy to hear the two of them trade vocals on a thoroughly enjoyable set of 14 songs.
The last of the breed? With 157 years between ’em, you might think so, but this is a pleasantly sprightly outing for the two old outlaws who, with producer chum Buddy Cannon, fashion a disc that’s equally divided between easy-going nostalgic re-treads such as Family Bible (sung by Merle rather than writer Nelson), a somewhat superfluous version of Bob D’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, and shared memories kept fresh: the lovely Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash featuring guest singer Bobby Bare, another link to the late Waylon Jennings. OK, so they’re not reinventing the wheel, but Willie and Merle are comfortable in their own company – this is their fourth collaboration – and, with Nelson’s guitar Trigger still in active service and their lived-in vocals still passing muster, fans of country before it sold its soul to the attaché attorneys will enjoy the insouciant It’s Only Money and the typically morbid Where Dreams Come To Die. These days mildly controversial rather than rebellious, the pair get stuck into the pro-dope-smoker It’s All Going To Pot and tackle a good new number called Unfair Weather Friend, which swings down the road with a certain gusto.
Willie and Merle coined the modern country-bromance LP with their 1983 hit Pancho & Lefty; their latest looks back. The title — referring to Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers, major influences on both men — suggests a rich dig into country archaeology à la Haggard's 1970 Bob Wills tribute. Instead, we get a grab bag of new songs and rerecorded signatures fixed on the duo's own mythology, largely sans blue yodels or gypsy jazz.
On 1983's Pancho & Lefty, Austin and Bakersfield collided head on. Atop Townes Van Zandt's epic title tale about the mercenary survivor of a pair of desperadoes, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard topped the country charts for seven nonconsecutive weeks. It also forged a chemistry between the Texan and southern Californian revisited a fourth time here.
The first half of 2015 was a slightly strange moment for country, especially chart country, because it mostly made for some serious waiting. Though there have been significant releases, the biggest names will either return later in the year, or remain sleeping off their collective residual hangover ….
Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard sound every inch the old friends they are on their latest duet album, “Django and Jimmie. ’’ The two country legends have teamed up periodically over the years — most notably on 1983’s “Pancho & Lefty” — and their dusty, craggy croons are a comforting fit. (For fans of holiday music, the pair also made a terrific album called “Pancho, Lefty and Rudolph.