With her new album, The Waylon Sessions, Shannon McNally set out to revisit the songs and spirit of Waylon Jennings, a legend with whom she’s always had an ongoing fascination, but her collection of tunes ended up being not so much a tribute as it is a recontextualization; a nuanced, feminine rendering of a catalog long considered a bastion of hetero-masculinity. That’s not to say McNally has a softer, gentler take on Jennings’ songs — in fact, just the opposite. Over and over again, she manages to locate a smoldering intensity, a searing hurt buried deep within the music’s deceptively simple poetry, and she hones in on it with surgical precision on this new album, which features special guests like Jessi Colter, Buddy Miller, Rodney Crowell, and Lukas Nelson.
McNally breathes new life into the music here, tackling the tunes with an honesty and a maturity that transcends genre and gender. She doesn’t swap pronouns or couch her delivery with a wink; she simply plays it straight, singing her truth as a divorced single mother in her 40s in all its beauty, pain, and power.
“My goal wasn’t to force anything onto the music that wasn’t there already,” explains McNally. “There’s a feminine perspective hidden somewhere inside each of these songs. My job was to find a way to tap into that and draw it out.” The result is that rare covers record that furthers our understanding of the originals; an album of classics that challenges our perceptions and assumptions about just what made them classics in the first place.
To celebrate the release of The Waylon Sessions, McNally will be performing at City Winery Nashville tomorrow, 5/28, with special guests Rodney Crowell, Buddy Miller, and Kenny Vaughn. The show will also be available through the Mandolin livestream platform to watch live at 8 pm Central; it will be available for replay for the following 48 hours.