“Back to his roots…..”

What does that even mean? In sport, its close cousin is “back to basics” (something the manager of the team I support is wittering about after just one game of the football season). In music, well it usually means that the band has released an album or two that – to be blunt – didn’t sound like the fans wanted. And yet, back to his roots is a phrase appearing everywhere in connection with “Shooter”.

For Shooter Jennings, the inference is clear. For Shooter, to go back to his roots it’s got to be a country album, hasn’t it? His last album was a tribute to Georgio Moroder (he’s a self-confessed old computer nerd, so it kinda made sense), and before that was concept albums and all kinds of diversions. So there should be, too. Crikey, he’s got the talent to do what he pleases.

But, after about 15 seconds, its clear that this time he’s doing the country thing more overtly. “Bound To Git Down” is brilliant too. Something like Southside Johnny and His Dukes would do at their most righteous but listen to the lyrics. The lyrics tell a story. His story. Tennessee couldn’t hold him. He wanted the rock n roll lifestyle – “I was playing with Guns N Roses by the time I was 23” is how he puts it here – but then, there’s the other side. The side that wants to “make Hank proud.” And if he struggles – as he said the other day in Rolling Stone – with things not being country enough, then there’s the juxtaposition right there.

“Shooter” sees Jennings reunited with Producer Dave Cobb, for the first time for ages too. and they’ve crafted a set of songs that tick just about every box there is to tick. “Do You Love Texas” is a rabble rouser of the highest order, but perfect for those like me that live in the middle of the UK but romanticise the Deep South through song, while the Lap Steel work in “Living In A Minor Key” gives that a sense of late night longing.

“D.R.U.N.K” is an anthem, which even for the tee total amongst us is perfect. Tell me who couldn’t relate to the line of 2018 so far: “I ain’t putting on shoes I ain’t putting on pants, I am not going anywhere anyway….”? No one, that’s who. I might even be trouserless writing this, you’ll never know!

If that one is good time fun, then Jennings is a wonderful songwriter, capable of following it up with “Shades And Hues” a southern ballad of fine evocative nature, and “I’m Wild And My Woman Is Crazy” which sounds like a Skynyrd track to these ears – and if you are gonna take three steps towards the door, then this will fight you, no problem at all.

“Fast Horses And Good Hideouts” is the most outlaw things get – apparently it was inspired by correspondence with Randy Quaid – but even here, there’s the rock n roll. Mention of the infamous Hollywood Vampires drinking club in the first line, but there’s a Motley Crue reference just after, as if he was never comfortable with the country that comes with his background.

Now nearly 40, he seems more content, perhaps, and “Rhinestone Eyes” would make good on his promise to Hank from earlier on, while “Denim And Diamonds” has the feel of some nefarious blues club in the 70s, with the throb of the bass propelling it throughout.

Only nine songs and only just over half an hour, this is Shooter Jennings at his most stripped back, lean, mean and effortlessly cool. Back to his roots? Yeah maybe, but only if those roots were great music of whatever type.

For my money his best album since 2010’s “The Other Life” (its classic “Outlaw You” is one of the most played songs on my iPod, but a wonderful condemnation of fake country music to go with it, this feels right. Whatever it means to different people, “Shooter” is bang on target.

Rating 9/10

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