He may be the son of one of country music’s most heralded outlaws, but don’t use that label to describe Shooter Jennings. For the 33-year old Shooter, whose new album The Other Life hit stores on March 12, the current landscape of outlaw-inspired country lacks the fiercely independent spirit of his iconic father, Waylon, and the gang of musicians originally given that name. Seemingly always at odds with the mainstream, Shooter portrays himself more as an outsider by choice on his new 11-song set through a mix of Americana roots/rock, traditional country and a strong dose of 1970s psychedelia.
Many of the cuts on The Other Life came out of sessions for Shooter’s 2012 record, Family Man, which marked a return to a more country foundation after his industrial rock-influenced record, Black Ribbons. Opening with the mostly instrumental sci-fi theme, “Flying Saucer Song,” Shooter proclaims himself a misfit as dramatic piano and a Pink Floyd-esque chord progression fill the air. The rest of the project leans decidedly more country, but this serves as an early sign that The Other Life is Shooter’s most complete record to date, pulling sounds from all over his extremely diverse catalog.
While the finger pointing, “Outlaw You,” was released as a single in 2011, the song was not actually included on Family Man. It is included here, along with the epic, non-conformist, “The Gunslinger,” which opens with a lonely acoustic guitar before completely transforming into psychedelic ’70s soul complete with wailing saxophone. Don’t call me an outlaw, he demands in the chorus after a rhythmic verse showing off his extremely creative timing. Though he’s incredibly frustrated by the current use of the term ‘outlaw,’ Shooter’s really just a man feeling a little out of place as heard in “The Outsider.” It seems the older I get/the less I seem to fit in a young person’s world, he laments over a Waylon-inspired rhythm section.
There’s a consistent sense on the record that alienation is always right around the corner. Whether it’s feeling like he fits in better with the country days of yore while name checking legends like Jimmie Rogers and George Jones on the groove-heavy roots/rock number, “A Hard Lesson To Learn,” or portraying a redneck on the run in the cowpunk, “The White Trash Song” (which could easily be part of Shooter’s “Manifesto” song series) featuring Texan Scott H. Biram, Shooter’s most comfortable in the counter-culture.
Celebrated Americana artist Patty Griffin joins Shooter on the project, adding touching harmonies to the beautiful, “Wild and Lonesome,” a song that displays an introspective singer/songwriter style reminiscent of much of Shooter’s debut record, Put the “O” Back in Country. And on the spacey Southern rock jam, “15-Million Light Years Away,” Shooter trades lines with Jim Dandy of Black Oak Arkansas over a big distorted chorus.
Shooter produced The Other Life with an overall sound that is open and raw, and his slightly flawed drawl fits perfectly with its worn, lived-in feel. The rollicking, “Mama, It’s Just My Medicine,” defends human flaws with a classic rock influence, while the road-weary title track’s stripped down piano-based waltz provides for an intimate setting. However, the songs here are packed with attitude, as on the gritty barn burner, “The Low Road,” which advocates bringing the fight when necessary. Shooter himself brings both the fight and a biting independence on The Other Life, his best record since 2006’s Electric Rodeo, and a rugged outlier in today’s country music landscape.
Key Tracks – “Wild and Lonesome,” “The Low Road,” “A Hard Lesson To Learn,” “Outlaw You”