Music News & Reviews

Times change, so don’t define Shooter Jennings by his name or his dad’s

Shooter Jennings will perform at the Burl.
Shooter Jennings will perform at the Burl.

Shooter Jennings — the name alone is synonymous with country music, or so you would suspect.

But in recent years, the maverick Los Angeles artist purposely took repeated dives into the sorts of stylistic waters one might find surprising for the son of country outlaw Waylon Jennings.

In fact, the younger Jennings’ early records with producer Dave Cobb helped establish a new generational variant of the outlaw sound. How surprising were these leaps? Try the metal-esque concept album “Black Ribbons” that surfaced in 2010 or a tribute record to rock, electronic, film score and dance pop composer Giorgio Moroder, “Countach,” that followed in 2016.

But the urge returned to head back to a style of country music free of contemporary pop intrusions. So Jennings called Cobb, headed to Nashville and cut a nine song, 32-minute record of tunes so purely and naturally country in design that country radio likely won’t know what to make of it.

The album’s title is as simple and direct as its music — “Shooter.”

“I felt like nobody was really doing anything like this,” said Jennings, who returns to The Burl for a performance on Thursday. “And when I say nobody, I’m sure there are plenty of bands that are doing similar things, but as far as the kind of playing field of a lot of the artists that are out there go by, I felt most of them were doing things that were pretty different.

”So I spoke to Dave and said, ‘Hey man, let’s do a Bocephus record,’ alluding to the famed nickname of Hank Williams, Jr., whose early ‘80s era music was a prime inspiration for ‘Shooter.’

“The way the landscape is at the moment, there are not a lot of folks going this route in appreciating ‘80s and ‘90s — especially ‘80s — country music. I’m a huge Hank Jr. fan. I’m a big fan of George Strait and a lot of those guys from that era. Dave and I loved making records like that, so if we were going to work on our first record together in a long time, it felt like the most fun thing for us to do was to make the most country record possible. On all the other records I’ve done, I always had a slant – like rock or psychedelic stuff or whatever. So I felt like this time going straight country was the most alternative thing to do.”

Jennings cut his first three albums — “Put the ‘O’ Back in Country” (2005), “Electric Rodeo” (2006) and “The Wolf” (2007) — when Cobb was largely unknown to the country or pop mainstream. As Jennings veered off into new musical territory, Cobb gradually built a reputation as a multi-genre, Grammy winning producer. His client list includes two Kentucky country giants — Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson — as well as John Prine, Jason Isbell, Zac Brown Band, Lake Street Dive, Mary Chapin Carpenter and scores of others.

But working with Cobb wasn’t exactly a reunion. In fact, sessions for “Shooter” followed a record Jennings and Cobb co-produced for Brandi Carlisle, the critically acclaimed “By the Way, I Forgive You,” which was released in February.

“It’s like any kind of true friendship,” Jennings said of working with Cobb. “When you get in a room with somebody and you haven’t seen them in awhile, you pick up where you left off. It’s kind of like that musically for us. We just had three weeks together co-producing Brandi’s record, so we had all this time working together on someone else’s music. That set us up to being able to do my record pretty quickly. We had plenty of time to discuss it, so it wasn’t like we were going in blind. We came in and we were ready to fire on all cylinders. We got into the studio and just continued the process from Brandi’s record to my record.”

Put all of this together — the country records, the extremely non-country records, the collaborations and an increasingly visible roll as a producer — and you have an artist who happily chooses not to defined by anything, not even his name.

“Whether it be good or bad, I’ve separated myself enough from my dad at this point. It’s like, times change. But I’m in a really good place creatively. I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve not once ever done a piece of music that wasn’t what I wanted to make. I’m getting opportunities to work with people I really love and am really excited to make records with. It’s like I’ve been handed this huge opportunity and am in the shape to take it on.”

If you go

Shooter Jennings/The Cordovas

When: 9 p.m. Sept. 6

Where: The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd.

Ticket: $25