In 2015, I saw a great show that featured Shooter Jennings and Waymore’s Outlaws that lasted almost three hours. Growing up in a rock and roll town, I was a little late for the party when it comes to appreciating his father Waylon Jennings, but since then I’ve acquired all of Ol’ Waylon’s Lp’s from ’73-77. Although the last three years my ears have been dialed into SXM Outlaw Country which includes Shooter’s “Electric Rodeo” program, I have not purchased any of his records. Lately, my head would turn every time to see who was singing “Rhinestone Eyes”, one of the hot new singles from Shooter. When I happened to see the vinyl Lp at Square Records, something inside said “grab this”. What I purchased could be the best release of the year.
Produced by Dave Cobb, the black and white image of Shooter immediately makes you compare it to Waylon’s iconic Lonesome, On’ry and Mean. Shooter contacted Cobb about not just making a classic honky tonk album, but the best country album for right now. Together they chose nine tracks, four of which were co-writes on the spot in the studio. Recorded in Nashville at RCA Studio A, the additional players included Brian Allen (Bass), Fred Newell (Pedal Steel), Chris Powell (Drums), Bekka Bramlett and Kristen Rogers (harmony vocals), and Leroy Powell (Guitar). Jennings plays guitar and keyboards with Cobb adding additional guitar.
The album kicks off with “Bound ta Git Down”, a honky tonk blues number featuring the blazing horn section of trumpeter Ben Clark and saxophonist Nate Heffron. An instant classic titled “Do You Love Texas?” was released as an early single to raise money for the Rebuild Texas Fund after hurricane Harvey hit the Lone Star state. The beautiful ballad featuring Newell on steel “Living in a Minor Key” was written for George Jones and appeared on the tribute EP Don’t Wait Up (For George) in 2014. It’s not a true country record without a song like “D.R.U.N.K.” co-written with Aaron Ratiere that’s followed by Shooter’s voice shining on the slow burn “Shades & Hues” which closes side one.
Side two brings the heat with three successive radio hits beginning with the old-school country rockin’ “I’m Wild & My Woman Is Crazy”. A phrase used in correspondence from actor Randy Quaid became the title for the spotlight dance single “Fast Horses & Good Hideouts” that has hints of Billy Joel. “Rhinestone Eyes” takes the album to the stratosphere, a tribute to Shooter’s wife Misty, that now I’ll sing to myself out of the blue. The final song, “Denim & Diamonds” is a murky and muddy soulful piece that describes a hard-working woman who looks forward to her well-deserved night off.
There are several new excellent Americana songwriters bringing a fresh wave of material to listeners that many of us try and “discover”. But please don’t think this is just “another Shooter Jennings” album. Shooter is an album that not only defines Outlaw roots, but has the cojones to lead the charge for how country music should still be presented. Someplace in heaven, Waylon and Hank must be kickin’ back with a grin.