Sunday, December 19, 2021

Holiday Gift Guide ’21: Heartworn Highways Revisited

Outlaws are cool, so there is always a younger generation eager to follow in their footsteps. The question is whether Millennials are equal to the task. It is always tough to compare the original generation with those who come after them, but the disparity is particularly glaring in the case of “Outlaw Country.” Nearly forty years after the late James Szalapski filmed his classic documentary, Heartworn Highways, Wayne Price applied his methods to a new generation of Nashville musicians in Heartworn Highways Revisited, which has now is available on DVD and BluRay from Kino Lorber.

Sadly, Towne Van Zandt died from his hardcore outlaw lifestyle in 1997, so he does not appear as an honored alumnus in
Revisited. Guy Clark and Steve Young are no longer with us either, but Price was able to film them before they passed. As you might expect, their scenes, along with those of David Allan Coe, are the best in the self-positioned sequel. However, the absence of the original doc’s biggest star, Charlie Daniels is quite glaring. Could it be the rightward turn his politics took after September 11?

In fact, there seems to be a rather perverse slant to the film, considering the general market for Country music (including the Outlaw variety), reflected for instance in Bobby Bare Jr’s joke about Republicans and Robert Ellis’s “Sing Along,” which describes the horrors of a fire-and-brimstone upbringing.

On the other hand, it is nice to hear some of the musicians incorporating jazz and blues influences. The acutely personal Outlaw singer-songwriter tradition is clearly still represented by the likes of Justin Towne Earle’s “Am I that Lonely Tonight” and Ellis’s “Tour Song.” However, there is no question the jaw-dropper highlight of the film is Guy Clark’s climatic performance of “L.A. Freeway,” with most of the younger musicians offering reverential support.

The bottom line is
Revisited’s songs just aren’t as strong as those in Szalapski’s classic forerunner doc. That might be an unfair comparison, but Price invites it by incorporating a long segment of Coe watching his classic Heartworn Highway performances with his wife. Yet, it is hard to blame him for that choice, because it is such a dramatic moment. Unlike its predecessor, Revisited does not end on a Christmasy note either, but there is a scene of Shelly Colvin and her husband chopping down their Christmas tree, so there is that.

is a perfectly respectable country music documentary, but it lacks the grittiness and consistency of quality that distinguished Szalapski’s classic film. For country listeners, they would make a nice combo, but the original should be a much higher priority for more casual viewers. Mostly just recommended for fans of the younger musicians it features, Heartworn Highways Revisited is also available on DVD and BluRay.