Billy Ray Cyrus Brings Waylon Jennings’ Vision Full Circle
It took nearly 20 years, but Waylon Jennings called it. Billy Ray Cyrus just wishes the country legend was around to say, "I told you so."
Cyrus teamed with Shooter Jennings to record two songs on Thin Line, his new album in stores and online as of Sept. 9. "I've Always Been Crazy" is a standout track, and going into the studio Cyrus had the same question many have: How would Shooter approach his father's music?
They recorded the song in an old meat packing warehouse converted into a recording studio in downtown Los Angeles. Cyrus noted the eerie surroundings, which turn up in the tenth track on Thin Line.
“Immediately, it became haunting," Cyrus says. "Shooter’s version of it, his approach, it just felt haunting.”
Lee Roy Parnell adds guitars to a version of the classic country hit that you'd expect to hear in an art house horror film. It's a bluesy, smokey, shuffling track delivered with a nervous reverence rather the late singer's signature boom.
“Waylon sat with me at this table," Cyrus says, calling from his home in Tennessee, "and at this table Waylon said to me, ‘I know of all my songs, I had this dream. I had a vision that you’re going to record “I’ve Always Been Crazy."' And I’m like ‘Waylon, I love that song!’”
That moment from 20 years ago hit Cyrus like a punch to the chest as he and Shooter Jennings began to cut the song. Of course, Waylon didn't predict that Cyrus would cut the song with Shooter, but Cyrus does recall the first time he met Waylon, he started bragging on his son's rock band before any pleasantries were exchanged.
Thin Line is an album that pays tribute to country legends in a way that's true to the singer's new CMT television series, Still the King. On paper it's a strange concept, but it all comes together during songs like "Stop Pickin' on Willie." On the show, Cyrus' character, Vernon, is convinced Willie Nelson is his father, but he didn't write that song for this album. In fact, he wrote it nearly 30 years ago.
“'Stop Picking on Willie' was a hit for me, only in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio,” Cyrus says. “I played a bar called the Ragtime Lounge in Huntington, W.V. Part of eastern Kentucky where I lived, it was dry. Doesn’t that sound odd to say a place was dry?”
To get a drink, you had to go across the river to places like the Ragtime Lounge. Nelson was having troubles with the IRS at the time, so Cyrus wrote about it. Fans started packing the place out from two states away to hear him — and this is long before he had radio airplay or a record deal.
Covers of "Tulsa Time" and "Sunday Morning Coming Down" are mixed with originals and tributes. The singer's son, Braison Cyrus, joins him to pay homage to Merle Haggard on "Going Where the Lonely Go."
But the title track kind of pulls the album together.
“It’s a thin line between Elvis and Jesus / What we love and what pleases,” he sings to open an unexpected album, from a man who has had a very unexpected career.
“There’s a thin line between art and life,” Cyrus says. “It’s always that moment between what’s reality and what’s artistic and somewhere in between.” The walls between those concepts come crashing down on Thin Line, an album that's equal parts experimental and traditional.
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