James Hetfield turns 50 today, and I'm sure that you won't have to go far to find online tributes to him and his remarkable career. There are an abundance of killer Metallica songs to celebrate with, but today I'm honoring him with the only solo song he ever released, a cover of Waylon Jennings' "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit Has Done Got Out of Hand" for the tribute album I've Always Been Crazy. When I write solo, I actually mean solo--this is James playing all of the instruments.
As some point in the next half of his career, I'm guessing that James will do a classic rock or outlaw country record. That baritone would be better serviced by something like "Simple Man" than "Metal Militia" in 20 years. At best, he could pull off a Hetfieldized equivalent of Johnny Cash's records with Rick Rubin.
Case in point: "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit Has Done Got Out of Hand." James nails the unwieldy chorus, and provides everything that one could hope for in a cover song--a tribute to the original, with the cover artist's own stamp on it. Hetfield turns the singsongy tune into hard-charging country metal, a few years before David Allan Coe and 3/4 of Pantera tried it on Rebel Meets Rebel. I also like Hetfield's Waylon selection. It takes major cojones for a metal god to not just cover a country song, but to pick one with a message about not being as badass as your listeners perceive you to be would be unfathomable for any other thrash metal musician. Nowhere on record is James' lack of self-consciousness better displayed. He makes blending rock and country sound almost as effortless as Elvis did.
Happy birthday, James Hetfield. Still smashing through the boundaries.