After taking a step away from country music to create the brilliant concept album "Black Ribbons," Shooter Jennings returns to his roots. In fact, this is his most country album to date.
The lead track The Real Me sounds like a lost Waylon song. Union man and guitar legend Tom Morello steps in to add some flavor to the ultra poppy The Long Road Ahead, which is reminiscent of Jennings sole hit 4th of July. Single The Deed and the Dollar is a heartfelt uptempo love ballad with a strong bass backbeat that is one of his strongest recorded songs to date. He ties the album to his others with Manifesto #4, another twisted spiritual song, this time with a Southern rock sound. Summer Dreams (Al's Song) sounds like it was recorded in the late 1970s and uses flourishes of harmonica to accent its easy going nature.
The album isn't all slow rockers and ballads. The perfect complement to last year's outstanding middle finger to modern mainstream country Outlaw You (which is noticeably absent) is the rocker Southern Family Anthem, a guitar heavy celebration of his wild family, incest and all. Jennings takes a moment to reflect on his father and his wife's fathers failing health in Daddy's Hands, which features Willie Nelson's pal Mickey Raphael on harmonica. Jennings takes on a haunting tale of coal mine tragedy in Black Dog, a meandering dark song that perfectly fits his voice.
The strength of the steady bass beat stands out as something that adds to the classic country feel of the music and the prevalence of the harmonica, which is used more in folk than country these days. Jennings' voice has grown stronger since his first release "Put the 'O' Back in Country" seven years ago, occasionally sounding like his Waylon in his prime, while still maintaining his own identity. The songwriting has also improved, and "Family Man" is devoid of filler. The album is a quieter affair overall than his previous releases, but it only helps to reinforce how much he has grown as a musician on the strongest release from Shooter Jennings to date. The only complaint is that the album could have used a few more songs, leaving the listener impatient for more.