Sometimes, the old ways are best
Shooter Jennings, the son of country music legend Waylon Jennings and outlaw country singer Jessi Colter, has been all over the musical board in his releases over the last 10+ years as a solo artist. With the original release of a straightforward country album, Jennings has experimented with hard rock, dystopian concept albums and even electronic dance music in the style of Giorgio Moroder. Now, in 2018, he has “returned to his roots” so to speak, for one of his most well-written, well-produced and, above all, unabashedly fun releases of his catalog.
Shooter, released on August 10, was produced by Grammy award-winning producer Dave Cobb, who also produced Jennings’ debut album Put the “O” Back in Country back in 2005. Cobb’s most recent successes came from producing Chris Stapleton’s From A Room: Volume 1 and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound, both of which won Grammy awards at the most recent ceremony back in January.
After the various artistic trips and explorations the younger Jennings has employed in his adult career, what was his reasoning behind writing an album like Shooter? “Nobody is cutting a honky-tonk Hank Williams Jr. record right now,” Jennings said in an interview. “That is still missing from country, and that’s what I and a lot of people want to hear.” You’ll hear a lot of Hank Williams Jr.’s influence on Shooter up-and-down the track list. The fun and lively “D.R.U.N.K.” spells out how Shooter wants to spend his God-given day with a great background chorus to back up his Waylon-meets-Kid Rock voice. At its heart, it sounds like the gift of a writing session between David Allen Coe, Hank Williams Jr. and Brad Paisley. It’s incredibly fun and one of the shining points on the album. The final track on the album, “Denim and Diamonds,” is very groovy and very dark (much like a Williams Jr. ballad), but it’s still very strong, especially with the cutting delivery of the first line of the chorus “Don’t you try to stop her ‘less you’re lookin’ for fight…”.
“Bound Ta Git Down” serves as the literal introduction to the party with a 1-4-5 blues boogie structure with multiple key changes, horn proclamations and guitar solos. This track has Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis 50’s rock influence all over it. The song is apparently autobiographical, but reads like an everyman’s rock and roll “coming of age” tale: A wild and rebellious son kicks up the dirt from his home and shags off to California and fully dives into the rockstar lifestyle. “Anything I write is going to be autobiographical and true to some degree,” Jennings said in an interview.
“Do You Love Texas?” is a loud and proud honky-tonk track with syrupy sweet declarations of love toward the Lone Star state. The song was originally released as a single last year to benefit the Rebuild Texas Fund, a charity set up to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey. The song also features a who’s who of Texas natives backing up the choruses, including Kris Kristofferson, Kacey Musgraves and Randy Rogers. While originally being intended for a good cause, this song was made to be a beer drinker’s anthem just before last call at their favorite dive bar.
“Fast Horses & Good Hideouts” begins with a creepy intro that leads into an Elton John-esque piano melody. This sounds like Shooter’s tribute to the retiring music legend from his listening to “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” “Rocket Man” and maybe a cover-to-cover listen of Tumbleweed Connection. Great background vocals to create near-perfect harmonies with Shooter’s voice and enchanting steel guitar notes help this track stand out among some strong competition on Shooter.
Jennings took more than just inspiration from the second Hank Williams when writing the songs on Shooter. “Living in A Minor Key,” originally written in tribute to George Jones, features a steel guitar riff accenting the ending of each of Shooter’s verses. A true country ballad, Jones would have unequivocally approved. “Rhinestone Eyes” was written as a tribute to Shooter’s wife, Misty. It’s a folksy, simple and straightforward country love song strum-along that’s lyrically soul-baring and instant wedding song material.
As the son of one of the four Highwaymen, one would assume Shooter is under immense pressure to live up to his father’s Luckenbach legacy. After all, Waylon has been written as the subject of hundreds, maybe thousands of tributes as “the voice” of what country music is “supposed to sound like.” But in the last near-20 years, playing around with the rules, sounds and limitations of music has led the junior Jennings to Shooter, an absolute joy of an album. Musically dense, lyrically true, exceptionally produced and a rip-roarin’ good time, Jennings lets his southern roots shine through across an album that just barely clocks in at over half an hour long. There’s a little George Jones, a lot of Hank Jr. and even a touch of Waylon in there, too. For a good ol’ country music fan from way back in the day, and for any music lover in general, Shooter is a definite recommendation.