“Wild and Lonesome” from Shooter’s upcoming album The Other Life is a sparse, fiercely classic country tune with great country instincts and arrangement. It’s not great because of its classic country flavor, it’s great because Shooter had the wisdom to get out of the song’s way an allow it to pick its own path and tell its own story, and that happened to lead it down the classic country road.
In “Wild and Lonesome,” Shooter’s voice finds its sweet spot, and the the tasteful effects used behind it help create space in the music instead of clogging it like they are prone to do in many of his recordings. Space is this song’s greatest asset, where the emotion behind the song can breathe and come to life. A minimal arrangement of snare drum, bass, and acoustic guitar allow the listener’s ear to rest where it should be focused–the steel guitar and the intermixing of Shooter’s tones with guest harmony singer Patty Griffin, who takes time out of her love nesting with Robert Plant in Austin to deliver a memorable, tight performance with Shooter.
The story embedded in “Wild and Lonesome” deals in sincerity and fits the music of “Wild and Lonesome” expertly. It’s modest ambiguity may keep some from finding it fulfilling, while others will allow the abstractness to meld to their experiences and allow the song to become very personal to them. The first time I listened to this song I thought drugs were central to its theme. The second time I thought it was about Waylon. I guess it matters if the one line reads “Take another toe” (referring to Waylon’s diabetes) or “Take another toke.” It will all shake out once we get the liner notes in our hands, but a part of me doesn’t want to know the truth.
The problems that plague Shooter Jennings’ music are no different that what plague many artists: their inability to look outside themselves and see what is good, and what is not from their material and ideas. This is where it is important for an artist to be a part of an environment that encourages dialogue and criticism to weed out bad decisions that can hold listeners back from an artist’s best works. In a cynical world, one bad song or one bad decision can typecast an artist as one thing or another.
Nowhere will you ever see me assert that Shooter Jennings has no talent, or no good songs. But his inability to focus, or to grace ideas or sonic directions with patience, or to embrace and encourage criticism, will continuously hold him back until he decides he’s willing to change. And until then, I’m afraid songs like this will remain unnecessarily buried to the wide body of ears who deserve to hear it from the polarization of his name.
Two guns up.