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For nearly two decades, Shooter Jennings has defied expectation while constantly expanding the parameters of country, rock ‘n’ roll, and beyond. The scion of American music royalty, he has affirmed his own place in histories still to come as a truly limitless artist whose ambitious experimentation spans myriad genres and creative platforms, from releasing seven solo LPs, countless EPs, and founding his own label and multimedia outlet, Black Country Rock, to hosting his “Shooter Jennings’ Electric Rodeo” on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country channel, producing music by Jamey Johnson, Wanda Jackson, and his mom, Jessi Colter, and the creation of acclaimed BBS Door games (available via his own BCRGames.com).
Ever the outlaw, Jennings has now crafted what might well be his most truly idiosyncratic work thus far, SHOOTER. Produced by longtime friend and collaborator, Low Country Sound founder Dave Cobb, at the renowned RCA Studio A on Nashville’s Music Row, the album sees Jennings staking out a fairly straightforward goal: to simply make a great country record. It should be noted, Jennings’ last studio album was a genuinely visionary tribute to Giorgio Moroder so in some ways, making a straight up country record is as much of a left turn as anything else in his brilliantly mercurial career thus far. But with songs like “Fast Horses & Good Hideouts” or the raucous “I’m Wild & My Woman Is Crazy,” Jennings more than affirms his mission by returning to country’s original, if oft misplaced, mandate: singing songs about growing up and getting older, about going out and getting trashed. In short, making music for real people with real lives. With SHOOTER, Jennings truly puts his own mark on country music, living up to his extraordinary birthright with unparalleled passion, experience, and heart.
“I think that’s why I was so excited to do this now,” he says. “This record is almost a re-centering for me. I wanted to do something straight and simple. It was almost like recalibrating a firearm. Every once in a while you realize you’re shooting wild so you have to stop and recalibrate.”
Jennings’ decade-plus relationship with the GRAMMY® Award-winning Cobb extends all the way back to 2005 and his first trio of solo albums, a landmark series of records in which they tried to “stretch the boundaries of what was acceptable on a country record” by adding elements like electronics, psychedelic guitars, and Shooter’s distinctly modern point of view. SHOOTER – which marks their first full length effort together since 2010's psychedelic metal concept album, BLACK RIBBONS – turns that experimental approach on its head by stripping the country sound bare to its bones to reveal the genre’s hot blood and hard muscle.
“I called Dave and said, Everyone is taking the adventurous route we took on my first records but nobody is making records like Hank Williams Jr.,” Jennings says. “Just classic good time honky tonk. I want to do that. I want to make a slammin’ country record. I want to make the best country record for right now. He said, ‘I’m in. Come down to Nashville and let’s record that record.’”
Indeed, Jennings had just recorded a complex concept album – as yet unreleased – touching on death and the seemingly abrupt changes in the world over past few years and was already set to reunite with Cobb to co-produce of Brandi Carlile’s critically hailed 2018 studio album, BY THE WAY, I FORGIVE YOU. Though raised in Nashville, Jennings has spent the past two decades residing in Los Angeles and admits to having little taste for contemporary Music City’s hard hustle and hipster bustle. With his own peace of mind in mind, he opted to stay with a dear friend from childhood in Springfield, TN, 30 minutes drive from Music Row.
‘”To me, I was still in L.A.,” Jennings says. “I was only in Nashville because Dave’s a good friend and we work really well together. I wasn’t interested in taking a Nashville state of mind with this record. The label wanted to put me up in a hotel but I said no, I’m going to stay with my friend and his wife. And y’know, it was the right scenario to make this record. It made everything so focused. It let me stay really centered with who I am.”
SHOOTER stakes its claim as classic country right from the jump, kicking off with the brass-fueled boogie-woogie of “Bound Ta Git Down” (though admittedly, few if any country LPs start with a high-energy honky tonk tune referencing weed, Guns n’ Roses, and Jennings’ good pal, Marilyn Manson). Jennings’ hard-fought clarity and determined honesty can be heard throughout the record, on songs like the tender “Love In A Minor Key” – which he first recorded for 2014’s George Jones tribute EP, DON’T WAIT UP (FOR GEORGE) – and “Rhinestone Eyes,” a heartfelt paean to his wife, Misty. In addition to the “bunch of songs” written at home before heading to Nashville, much of SHOOTER – including highlights like “Denim & Diamonds” and the Lone Star anthem, “Do You Love Texas?” – were co-written by Jennings and Cobb in the studio, “on the spot.”
“We’re still able to go in and get giddy and excited over creating together,” Jennings says. “Making music and then me writing lyrics. Just these real honest moments of creativity.”
SHOOTER further features songs co-written with a number of other collaborators. The rowdy, rousing “D.R.U.N.K.” was penned with Nashville songwriter Aaron Ratiere, the first time Jennings admits to any success with a traditional co-write. Elsewhere, “Fast Horses & Good Hideouts” sees Jennings and Cobb sharing a credit with iconoclastic character actor Randy Quaid.
“We’d been corresponding for a while,” Jennings says. “I was trying to get him and his wife on my radio show, but nothing ever came of it. Then I asked him about one of the YouTube videos they made of him reading out of the Bible, I wanted to play it on the Christmas episode. He wrote back, saying I’d fulfilled this lifelong dream of his to read the Gospel on the radio, and he signed it, ‘Here’s to fast horses and good hideouts.’ I thought, fuck, that would make a great song! So then I went and wrote it.”
In June 2017, Jennings and Cobb united a crack line-up of old friends and session legends to join them in the studio, including drummer Chris Powell (Jamey Johnson, Sturgill Simpson), bassist Brian Allen (Rich Robinson, Robben Ford) trumpeter Ben Clark & saxophonist Nate Heffron (Anderson East, Spock’s Beard), legendary steel guitar player Fred Newell (Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson), backing vocalists Bekka Bramlett & Kristen Rogers, and on lead guitar, Leroy Powell, formerly of Jennings’ original backing combo, The .357s.
“Leroy and I had a falling out years ago,” Jennings says, “but we patched it up really quickly. We were all young back then, young and lost, so to have him come around and play on this record meant a whole lot.”
As if that incredible cast weren’t enough, SHOOTER also features a posse of special guests answering the musical question, “Do You Love Texas?,” with an affirmative “Hell yeah!,” including Ray Benson, Jason Boland, Kris Kristofferson, Kacey Musgraves, Whiskey Myers, and Randy Rogers.
“We were mixing the record when Harvey hit down there,” Jennings says. “Dave had the idea of releasing that song early to raise money for the Rebuild Texas Fund. Then we thought how could we bring in even more money so Dave and I wrote to a bunch of our friends asking if they could give is a ‘Hell yeah’ and it all came together really quickly. The miracle of the Internet let us pull it all off in just one day.”
With his encyclopedic knowledge of music history, Jennings is well aware that self-titling an LP usually means one of two things: either the record is exceptionally personal or the artist is flat out of ideas. Suffice to say, Shooter Jennings is not an out-of-ideas kind of guy. The power and passion that rings through SHOOTER make the answer resoundingly clear.
“It’s a very honest record,” Jennings says. “There are no magic tricks. It’s really stuff that’s from the heart; it really encapsulates a lot of the styles I’ve done across all my records. Dave said, ‘Can’t we just call it SHOOTER?’ I said, I love that. Let’s just call it SHOOTER.”