Shooter Jennings

The Wolf – 2007 (Universal South)

Reviewed by Rev. Keith A. Gordon

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CDs by Shooter Jennings

For a musician, living up to a famous father's legacy can be tough - just ask Hank Junior or even J.C. Cash. It's album number four for Shooter Jennings, and it seems that Waylon's boy done got it right...just forge your own path and let the comparisons be damned.

In the past, Jennings has dealt with the looming presence of Waylon's shadow either by rocking hard or by defiantly picking up the country outlaw torch. Here, Jennings seems to have hit the sweet spot, an artistic middle ground. There are fewer references to his infamous daddy in the grooves, and more musical experimentation. Jennings's vocals are softer and more soulful, albeit stronger and more assured than on his first two albums, and sound less like Waylon than they ever have.

In fact, this seems less inspired by the '70s "outlaw movement" than by the work of Texas wordsmiths like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. The slow story-song "Concrete Cowboys" waltzes to the sound of weeping pedal steel while the rocking talking blues of the autobiographical "This Ol' Wheel" shoots straight to the heart of Jennings's birthright. A solid cover of Dire Straits's "Walk Of Life" is juiced up with spry fiddle and energetic vocals while "Old Friend" mixes some damn fine bluesy guitar work with mariachi-flavor.

Not to say that Jennings doesn't get rowdy with his friends every now and then. "Higher" kicks up some dust with a swampy Southern rock vibe and the title cut is a grand, epic musical journey with swells of sound and crashing instrumentation. Shooter Jennings continues to evolve as an artist and songwriter, doing it his own way. His daddy would be proud.