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It's hard to imagine Waylon Jennings' songs without Waylon himself -- his music was so full of his outlaw personality, so defined by his distinct mix of tough and tender. So why do these 15 new renditions of Waylon classics feel so right?

Maybe it's because each of the singers here lets us hear what they picked up from Waylon, which part of their own music came from him. In Carlene Carter's version of "I've Always Been Crazy," you can hear how his rebelliousness helped shape her own against-the-grain attitude. Grammy goddess Norah Jones' take on "Wurlitzer Prize (I Don't Want to Get Over You)" demonstrates how his ragged vulnerability influenced her countrified jazz. And rocker Henry Rollins' metallic tear through the title cut shows how much of his aggressive attack came from Waylon's fearlessness. The stars here -- also including Kris Kristofferson, Allison Moorer, Radney Foster and Nanci Griffith -- wind up sharing these songs with Waylon, keeping his spirit intact while putting a personal mark on them.

It was inevitable that Waylon's death in February 2002 would inspire a flood of tribute recordings, and just as inevitable that none of them would live up to the originals. But Lonesome, On'ry and Mean offers an education for the diverse fans of the singers involved, as well as a chance for Waylon fans to hear his tunes in a new way.

Waylon once sang about playin' those songs sung blue that help me remember you. As long as these songs continue to be played, no one will forget him.