By Ellen Eldridge
If Waylon Jennings hadn’t given his seat up on the famous flight Buddy Holly chartered in 1958 that crashed on the “day the music died,” son “Shooter” would never have lived to combine the psychedelic influence of Pink Floyd with the earthy soul of outlaw country music.
His 1979 arrival places him at the tail end of generation X on the cusp of the millennial kids with fast-absorbing social media prowess. His story connects the lines between those who shaped music history and how he will continue it.
Though his debut released in 2005, three years after his father passed at age 64, Jennings released four more albums before this year’s The Other Life, and one gets a historical feeling when sitting down to sort through the sounds.
The opening “Flying Saucer Song,” instantly recalls Pink Floyd with anticipatory piano chords building percussively; listeners expect David Gilmour’s voice to ring out, but Jennings calls out, “Do you know who you are?” before the song takes on a more rock orientation toward the end.
The next couple tracks pass by less memorably on the first listen—not to discount the straight country sweetness added by Patty Griffin’s appearance on “Wild & Lonesome,” the song that premiered on “Sons of Anarchy.” Then, “Outlaw You” picks up on what Shooter excels at: blending the history of music into his own take.
After acknowledging those who feel tough and “name drop Johnny Cash,” Jennings sings, “Hey pretty boy in the baseball hat, you couldn’t hit country with a baseball bat. Country ain’t just about where you’re at; it’s about being true to what’s inside of you.” This single chorus kicks the album into gear, taking on what it means to be country.
Jennings’ mix of rock, country and jam elements blend perfectly, allowing all generations of fan to simply enjoy the passion and spirit of making music. Not every child of a musician can or should start recording and releasing albums solely because of his or her last name. Jennings takes from his experience, from the years he spent growing up in a crib on a tour bus through the same influences of those who lived through the varied influences of major label bands, before the era of the independent musician’s Internet soap box. He even mentions a Skeletor lunch box in “The Low Road,” so those who grew up in the ‘80s can relate to the path Shooter traveled through history.
Jennings digested well the food of his father’s associations and now contributes to the conversation before a buffet of pianos, guitars and other stringed instruments. His country roots sprouted through the influences shared by those who loved Johnny Cash on their parents’ radios, Blind Melon in their early teens and The Black Crowes across the decades. The closing track, “Gunslinger,” touches on the angrier themes present in the 1980’s thrash metal music, but just in the lyrical theme. The music stays closer to pop-rock and psychedelic spirit than thrash or heavy metal. A chaotic saxophone calls out to David Lynch’s style.
Shooter Jennings announced in May 2012 that he and son of Willie Nelson, Lukas Nelson, are recording an album together so now is a perfect time to sink teeth into his solo work with The Other Life and try to predict what he will add to the future of music.
He has also created an accompanying film to “The Other Life,” which will be screened at various venues. In the film of the same name, Shooter says goodbye to his family and hits the road, but the road is not as he left it. Haunted by a mysterious woman who is more than what she seems, he soon finds himself on a supernatural journey forcing him to face a darkness that has followed him longer than he can understand and a destiny that he cannot deny.