CD Review – Shooter Jennings “The Other Life”
Shooter Jennings is a hard dog to keep on the porch, to borrow a line I once heard Justin Townes Earle quote his daddy as saying about him. Or maybe JTE was saying that about his dad? Either way, it means difficult to control, having his own agenda, so it could apply to either of those guys and certainly would apply to Shooter Jennings. He’s talented, prolific and eclectic. And he’s moving all the time, on his own path.
I was intrigued when I heard that the new Shooter Jennings record, The Other Life, would be issued in conjunction with a short film (by Blake Judd), and even more intrigued when I learned it won Best Short Film at Cincinnati’s Horror Hound Festival. As in horror film. Here’s a quote from the festival: “The Other Life is a macabre tale of neglect, betrayal, torment, and necromancy.” If that ain’t country, I’ll kiss your ass.
So what about the record? It has some of Shooter’s best work to date. I’m particularly fond of the straight forward country songs, but before I get to those, we should spend some time with what I’ll call the songs of frustration. First on that list is the last song on the record, The Gunslinger. There’s a military drum beat and an almost spoken verse with a nice feel, kind of sucking you in, then the chorus:
Don’t call me an outlaw, naw
I’m a motherfuckin’ gunslinger
You wanna run your mouth all day long?
You better keep your eye
On my motherfucking trigger finger
Then he sings, “Do you feel me, punk?” and repeats that line and I’m thinking, I’m glad I’m not a punk, because hell, I feel you, even as a non-punk. It’s that kind of song. And, to some degree, it’s that kind of album.
Outlaw You is on this record, even though the single was released well before the prior record, Family Man. This song takes on another set of punks, those baseball-cap-wearing guys who couldn’t hit country with a baseball bat. You probably know the ones he’s talking about.
Jennings brings Jim Dandy in for yet another running-out-of-patience number. This time the object of frustration is the world, a world where “lunatics run the asylum and animals run the zoo.” This song feels a little less personal than The Gunslinger or Outlaw You. It is really good to hear Jim Dandy (Mangrum) singing – it reminds me of my younger days, listening to Black Oak Arkansas. Take a look at this, from 1974:
In my humble opinion, Jennings is at his best writing and singing straightforward country music. Family Man really showed what he could do in this regard. On this record, Wild and Lonesome (with Patty Griffin singing background vocals) is a fine example. Here’s an official video, with lyrics:
The title cut is as old school country as you’ll find around, and it satisfies. You can see a video of Jennings doing a solo acoustic version of that song here. My pick of the litter on this record is The Outsider. He’s been playing the song live for some time – here’s a video from August, 2011:
In The Outsider, Jennings sings:
The times are changing you bet
Seems the older I get
The less I seem to fit
In a young person’s world
And the higher I climb
The more I see design
How they keep us all confined
Robbing oysters of their pearls
And then he reminds us that he’s the “son of a Rebel saint.” Yes, he is, and he handles it well, nodding toward his center, reaching out to every corner of the music world, marking his own trail and stepping off when it suits him. Sure, he’s hard to keep on the porch, and we wouldn’t have him any other way.
The Other Life was released in March.
Mando Lines listens to a lot of music and writes about it a little. A lot of the little he writes is on Twitter @mando_lines.