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The Wolf

Shooter Jennings (Universal South)

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There is a carefree — almost lackadaisical — attitude informing the music of Shooter Jennings that is also refreshingly anti-Nashville. The fan base who embraces Shooter, the son of Waylon Jennings and recording-artist-in-her-own-right Jessi Colter, are predisposed to reject Music Row's buffed and airbrushed product coming from the likes of Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban.

The Wolf harkens back to days when Shooter's daddy was making hits. Back then, the best prize a country star could receive was a radio hit and, with an army of songwriters supplying songs, the norm was to release two or more albums a year in hopes that one of them would have the golden single.

Having released three albums in as many years, Shooter embraces that kind of fast pace. He's only had one modest hit, "4th of July," off his debut Put the O Back in Country, and clearly stardom isn't a destination on the man's MapQuest. He understands that he's too wild and wooly for Nashville and too Nashville to make a splash in whatever is left of the rock audience.

He pretty much lays out his predicament on the infectious fiddle-driven opening track "This Ol' Wheel," with "We picked a dark horse, and we're gonna ride it to the end." His cover of the Dire Straits' "Walk of Life" is faithful to the original, except with fuzzy guitars and Shooter's honky-tony croak giving it less sheen and more life.

The ballads "Slow Train" and "Tangled Up Roses" are a nod to old-fashioned country. "Slow Train" even has some "Ring of Fire"-like horns. But Shooter can't find a way into the songs and, as a result, they come across like material he puts on the record to keep his outlaw-country credentials in check.

"She Lives in Color" brings the horns back for better effect, especially as Shooter cuts back his croak and rides a sweet melody that comes across like a lost '70s classic. It's a strange and beautiful song, and you can't imagine any other artist alive pulling it off. That's Shooter's gift and curse. The best thing is that he seems to be at peace with it. — Werner Trieschmann

Grade: B+

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