Shooter Jennings

The Wolf

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Lacking both the songwriting skills of his superstar dad and the platinum-selling croon of his Nashville superiors, Shooter Jennings has struggled to carve his own niche. The Wolf finds him twanging his way through traditional (almost stereotypical) country music, despite his past forays into rock & roll territory. Jennings' previous studio effort, Electric Rodeo, was a far edgier affair, and the subsequent Live at Irving Plaza 4.18.06 showed him at his best, leading a raucous bar band -- the .357s -- through electrified romps about Southern living and drug busts. Traces of that energy are evident in The Wolf's kick-off track, "This Ol' Wheel," where Jennings name-checks Johnny Cash and dismisses his critics with a kinetic country-rap delivery. His voice is confident, almost swaggering, and the track blazes with kick-stomp percussion and fiddle riffs courtesy of Doug Kershaw. Perhaps it's no coincidence that The Wolf's other standout track, "Slow Train," also features a lively cameo, this time by the Oak Ridge Boys. Jennings grew up among the heavyweights of outlaw country, a genre his father helped invent, and he sounds solid when paired with stars of that caliber. Even so, Jennings sounds his best on country-rock numbers that combine his pedigree with a splash of loud, distorted guitars, and there's not enough of that material here. Instead, listeneres are saddled with a smattering of soft country, some rootsy numbers, and several horn-laden tracks, none of which deliver the punch of "This Ol' Wheel." The tunes aren't necessarily bad; they simply lack a proper person to sing them, since Jennings' mediocre vocals are better suited to a genre in which a singer's limitations can be masked by vigor and volume. The Wolf pushes those shortcomings to the forefront, and the strength with which Jennings begins the album can't sustain him through the end.

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