Shooter Jennings

Family Man

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Shooter Jennings' final album for Universal South, 2007's The Wolf, flirted more with neo-traditional country than any of his previous records did; it was almost schizophrenic, trying to balance his rock & roll side with his pedigree. After leaving the label, he formed Hierophant, a post-psych, near metal outfit which recorded the conceptual Black Ribbons, released independently to marginal acclaim. But Jennings' country roots ran too deep to remain there; it was a question of time before he returned in earnest. Ironically, after working so hard to establish himself as a hard-rocking, hell-raising outlaw worthy of his dad's pedigree, it's the country music on Family Man that really gives listeners a deep, wide, appreciation of who Jennings is as an artist. He moved to New York and it appears to have cleared his vision. He and pianist Erik Deutsch formed Triple Crown, the absolutely killer backing band on Family Man. They cut this album in a Soho studio; the end result is Jennings' most bona fide "country" record to date, though it contains many surprises. As evidenced by the radio and video success of the album's first single, "The Deed & the Dollar," a love song, it has commercial viability without the production excesses of contemporary country. Everything -- guitars, mandolins, pedal steel, fiddle, drums, piano, vocals -- sounds natural and uncompressed. The songwriting on Family Man is tighter than anything Jennings has offered us previously; it too is organic. "The Long Road Ahead" (with guitar help from Tom Morello, and mandolin and backing vocals from bandmember Eleanor Whitmore) is modern neo-trad country at its best. "The Southern Family Anthem," a hard rocking, rebellious, anthemic stomper (and a dead cross between Neil Young and Crazy Horse at their loudest and Lynyrd Skynyrd), is the album's exception, but it works better as rock & roll than anything his peers -- Kid Rock, Hank III, etc. -- have on offer. "Daddy's Hands" moves back the other way: it's a tender, bittersweet reminiscence of family that almost anybody can relate to. "The Black Dog" is Southern Gothic storytelling at its best, inspired by a short story set during the Civil War. Album-closer "Born Again" marries a sophisticated story line to an equally savvy melody. Whitmore's backing harmony vocal and fiddle playing add drama and texture. On Family Man, Shooter Jennings can assert his pedigree musically without having to mention it. It's obvious he's grown and matured as both a songwriter and a producer, and this is the finest moment in his catalog thus far.

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