“Shooter” is the newest release from this great artist that has undeniably stepped out of his father’s shadow and into his own. It has been out a little while but I am just getting caught up with it. It personifies how an artist discovers himself and what they can do in their chosen field. I have become a huge Shooter Jennings fan over the years and the story of how I reached this conclusion is the story of how most people learn to love an artist and their music.
It began many years ago when I attended a George Jones concert at Carnegie Hall in NYC. It was a star studded event with many great artists showing up as fans. I saw Kris Kristofferson and Elvis Costello milling about. Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes was there and at some point in the evening I went outside to have a cigarette and ended up standing next to Shooter and his (then) girlfriend Drea Matteo from the Sopranos. There were not too many people around and most seemed to be preoccupied with Drea.
As a huge fan of Waylon Jennings, I knew who he was and except for a couple of metal sounding songs, I was not aware of Shooter musical output, so the only thing I could really say was, “It’s nice to meet you – I really love your Dad’s music!” A look of disappointment flickered across his face and the real emotion of it really struck me. Waylon had not been dead for too long and I had not given the whole scenario too much thought before hand. The look disappeared quickly and he smiled and said thanks like a gentleman. As I walked away I saw Drea give him a half hug and a look that said, “Someday, Shooter, people will come up to you and say I love your music.”
That incident has sort of haunted me through the years. The funny thing is that also through the years Shooter ended bringing his David Bowie inspired Black Country Rock record label to the music distribution company I work for, Select-o-Hits. This has afforded me a front row seat to seeing a real music artist develop right before my very eyes. I listen to every release I have to sell and I do it with a critical ear to downplay any negatives I may notice and to up sell all the positives about the record. For me the secret of selling music, or anything in life, is honesty. If you are trying to get someone to buy something you better know what the hell you’re talking about.
Growing up as an artist in the public eye is one of the hardest things any artist has to do. You do not get good at performing live until you perform live a lot. You do not get good at being a band leader until you lead the band onto the stage a lot. You do not get confidence until you have had to face down adversity a lot. It is very reminiscent of that old 10,000 hours axiom. You are not a master until you hit that benchmark. I am happy to say Shooter has crashed through that barrier and it is a joy to listen to and to see live.
After finally listening to “Shooter” enough to absorb the tracks I have to say I love the way he constructs the songs and recordings. His vast musical exposure and experience shines through on every track. This is not the kind of record review where I am going to break down every song by notes and lyrics. That would kind of defeat the purpose here. To me, this album is about maturity and using every experience that was given to the artist to feed the art he creates. I think Shooter has done enough tours, albums and projects to really get comfortable with the music he is making now. Art really is always about addressing the “now”. The interesting thing is that if the artist addresses the “now” honestly, then the art holds up and becomes timeless, because the human condition is always the same. The same feelings about, love, hope, loss, politics war and peace, have never really gone away and never will.
Every word and sentiment I have written here is encapsulated within the first four lines of “Bound Ta Git Down”. It seems to be Shooter’s personal declaration of independence, punctuated with a rolling snare and a horn section straight out of Muscle Shoals. It tells the story better from his perspective, than mine ever could. But we are both saying the same thing really. Shooter has officially left the barn and I don’t think he is ever going to go back in. The journey continues with “Do You Love Texas (So Do I)?” This seems to be a real embrace of his heritage, but in that classic, “Thanks for the guitar, Dad”, kind of way. It acknowledges where the gift comes from but it also indicates that the boy is going to use that guitar to pave his own trail.
One of the things I see as a common denominator between great artists is how bold a thief they are. Shooter is now a master thief and lifts the diamonds and puts them on his own musical mantelpiece. I laughed out loud with delight when I heard him do a direct lift of the Don Rich Telecaster riff from “Buckaroo” and give it a place of honor in “Do You Love Texas?” Bringing in a little Bakersfield to Texas just to confuse or tickle, or maybe just to piss people off. Who knows and who cares? Sounds great! This applies to the ballads like “Shades and Hues” and it applies to the rock and roll devil may care bounce of “D. R. U. N. K.” I am so happy to say this is one of the best albums I have heard from any commercial artist in years. I am thrilled to be able to say all honesty to Shooter, “Hi, it’s nice to meet you and I really love your music”. Do yourself a favor if you love great music. Go buy “Shooter” today…You can thank me later. ;o)