Shooter is about as good a calling card as anybody could ever hope to carry.
One can only imagine what it must be like to be an artist and a son working in the shadow of a parent who’s an unimpeachable cultural icon. Such endeavors rarely end up succeeding, but when they do, the lion’s share seem to come within the realm of country music. Perhaps it’s the music’s inherent reverence for family and tradition, or that the pain and heartache often at the root of any great country song leaves a deep imprint within a familial line. In the case of the latter, Shooter Jennings had some large boots to fill in the wake of his father Waylon. That he elected to pursue country shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but it’s the way in which he’s gone about it is intriguing. Like another famous country family scion – Hank Williams III – Jennings has long placed greater stock in rock ‘n’ roll, only hinting at country through a series of albums clearly meant as individualized artistic statements to be reckoned with wholly removed from the works of their more famous kin. Both have gamely carried on their lineage’s outlaw reputation, often pushing it to extremes in terms of both sound and posturing.
But country music always seems to ride just below the surface of even the most rocking of these outings. Jennings, for all his rock and roll bravado, is inherently a good ol’ boy looking to rock the honky tonks just as much as the rock clubs. And with Shooter (the last name seemingly left off in a well-deserved attempt at the same first-name acclaim afforded his late father), he leans heavily on the former while only hinting at the latter. “Bound ta Git Down,” the album’s opening track, is a good old fashioned boogie rock workout that clearly lays out Jennings intentions from beat one. “Well I was born in Tennessee/ But it couldn’t hold me,” he shouts in a semi-raspy burr, working autobiographically from the start. He then runs through his time spent in California chasing the rock and roll life in all its gritty depravity: “If it feels so good, girl you it ain’t wrong.”
By the chorus, we see that this is not merely a dipping of the toe into country waters, but instead a full-fledged (and seemingly much-needed) return to his roots: “Rockin’ all night wasn’t rock and roll enough for me/ ‘Cause I wanna git down, down like a basset hound/ Down to the honky tonk sound…/ Make Hank proud/ Get drunk, get loud/ I’m bound ta git down.” Following this quickly with “Do You Love Texas?” – a song that could’ve easily appeared on an outlaw-era peak record by his father or Willie Nelson (both of whom get name-checked) – dives even deeper into the heart of country music. From there, all the requisite lyrical themes are present and accounted for: heartbreak and longing (“Living in a Minor Key”); drinking and carousing (“D.R.U.N.K.”); and the life of a country aesthetic (“I’m Wild & My Woman is Crazy”).
Nothing here is revelatory or genre-redefining, but it’s not supposed to be. This is just good old fashioned outlaw country delivered by the son of one of the genre’s founding fathers and most recognizable voices. He may be following in a similar aesthetic path as his daddy, but Shooter Jennings manages to stand on his own with yet another solid collection of songs, autobiographical stories and rocking instrumentation. In this, he manages that rare feat of being the son of a musical icon, but also his own distinct artistic self. Shooter is about as good a calling card as anybody could ever hope to carry.