Since he started his music career as a member of the underrated and lamented Stargunn in the early ’00s, Shooter Jennings has been hell-bent on destroying the expectations set by his famous parents. The child of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter — a vital, important country artist in her own right — Shooter has had probably the weirdest career in all of country and country-adjacent music: Stargunn was a glam band that could also sound like Lynyrd Skynyrd, and his solo debut, Put The “O” Back In Country basically invented the template for Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton (and was the first album country kingmaker Dave Cobb ever produced). In the 11 years since that debut, he’s done George Jones tribute albums, turned down an option to be the singer of Velvet Revolver, palled around with Marilyn Manson, and his 2016 album (and secretly maybe his best) was an electro-rock album in tribute to Giorgio Moroder. Shooter Jennings, like his dad, will never give you what you expect.
Which is why he did the absolute most unexpected thing: His new album, Shooter, is the most straightforwardly country album maybe in his entire discography (and certainly since Put the “O”). While Stapleton and Isbell and Sturgill are replicating the mood of ’70s outlaw country, and Midland are recreating ’90s George Strait for millenials, Shooter hits the middle ground: Shooter is probably the only country album out this year that holds Hank Williams Jr.’s ’80s albums in such high esteem. This is BBQ pit party country, an album to wear rhinestones to. It’s like eating Kenny Rogers Roasters with Hank Jr. in a Thunderbird in 1983.
Freshly on Cobb’s imprint on Elektra, Low Country Sound, Shooter runs the gamut from gutbucket ballads (“Rhinestone Eyes”), to hilarious odes to getting hammered (“D.R.U.N.K.”) and love songs to Texas, where “the beer tastes better” (“Do You Love Texas?”). But it’s in the autobiographical songs where Shooter moves from a fun album to a great one; Jennings has hardly been as open in the last 10 years as he is on “Bound Ta Git Down,” a song chronicling his entire music career, and album standout “Fast Horses & Good Hideouts,” an emotional song about fatherhood, his dad and wanting to grow up to be in the Hollywood Vampire Club. There’s liberation in putting some separation between yourself and your audience — and few were better at it than Shooter — but this feels like the confessional, starmaking album that’s been in his chamber since at least 2005. Shooter might follow this album up with a record with an animatronic band from a pizza chain, but Shooter will stand as one of his, and 2018’s, best.