Bentley's Bandstand: Mark Chesnutt's Outlaw is an album for the ages

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BY BILL BENTLEY

Mark Chestnutt, Outlaw, Saguaro Road Records

The outlaw movement in country music during the 1970s was a little bit like professional wrestling. You could believe some of it–people were actually performing fairly high wire acts of emotional daredevilry–but a big portion of it was show business. No problem because that’s entertainment, and to be expected.

A few of the artists, though, really pushed it beyond the red line, none more than Billy Joe Shaver. He actually out-outlawed the outlaws, and was quickly ostracized to a professional holding pen for it. So maybe it’s no accident that Mark Chestnutt, Beaumont, Texas’ finest, opens his new album Outlaw with Shaver’s “Black Rose,” a hellacious tale of deliberate destruction. With the unforgettable chorus, “The devil made me do it the first time/the second time I done it on my own/Lord put a handle on a simple-headed man and help me leave that black rose alone,” Chestnutt sings like he knows exactly of what he speaks.

Producer Pete Anderson has put together a band that plays like they’re getting paid in six-packs and dip. In other words, this is an album for the ages, and goes a long way in redeeming some of the silliness that ran outlaw music into the ditch down around 1977, when anyone with turquoise jewelry and a South American connection was grabbing the spotlight in Austin.

Mark Chestnutt’s voice is Lone Star-cured in the honky tonks, and it’s clear he was never too interested in wandering past that. The playlist here plays straight into the singer’s strengths — songs by Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Guy Clark and others let him shine under a cornbread moon brighter than ever. Anderson’s guitar sounds driven by rocket fuel, and feels like he’s been waiting for just this chance to jump back into a style he may have missed the first time around but won’t make that mistake again. And right smack in the middle of the release, “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” takes over with a sense of sadness almost too much to bear, thanks to Chestnutt’s crying time vocal and a heartbreaking string section full of king-size tears. Damn.

For anyone who longs for the days when country music could scare you, here’s the answer. Though no one involved is likely to end up on a Ten Most Wanted poster in the Post Office, every single note is 100% believable. Next stop, no doubt: Luckenbach, Texas.

Bill Bentley is a writer, musician, publicist, record producer and A&R director. He once played drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins.

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