Shooter Jennings Emerges As Important Producer

Dave Cobb still has to be considered the go-to producer when you’re talking about independent country and Americana, and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys with his Easy Eye Sound stable is also surging to prominence lately with the release of albums from Marcus King, John Anderson, Yola, Kendell Marvell and the like. But lately it’s been Shooter Jennings who has emerged as the rising producer of prominence not just by volume, but by quality and stature.

Sure, Shooter Jennings as a record producer is nothing new. The son of Waylon won a Grammy Award for co-producing Brandi Carlile’s By The Way, I Forgive You in 2019 with Dave Cobb, and then another in 2020 as the co-producer with Carlile on Tanya Tucker’s comeback record While I’m Livin’. Kudos are due to Shooter for those efforts of course, and for the awards specifically. But let’s be honest, those awards had just as much to do with intersectionality in the ever-increasingly identity-minded world of music awards as they did critical-acclaim for the efforts, good as they were anyway. And as a co-producer, Shooter was still ceding some decision making to others.

It’s also not that Shooter Jennings hasn’t been producing records for years. Some were surprised when Jason Boland and the Stragglers decided to forgo long-time collaborator Lloyd Maines and worked with Shooter as co-producer on their 2013 record Dark & Dirty Mile. At the time, Shooter’s focus was still very much on his own career, fitting producer duties in where he could, and trying to find his feet in the space. What has changed now is being a producer now feels like the primary focus, or at least an equal effort for the second generation performer. And most importantly, that’s where Shooter’s passion is.

Here in 2020, when running down the Best Country and Roots Albums So Far, Shooter Jennings contributed producer credits to arguably three of the top records turned in—American Aquarium’s Lamentations, Jaime Wyatt’s Neon Cross, and Hellbound Glory’s Pure Scum. He also produced The White Buffalo’s new album On The Widow’s Walk (not yet reviewed here), and produced a record for Guns N’ Roses bass player Duff McKagan in 2019.

And unlike Dan Auerbach, who seems to be obsessed with painting everything in a late 60’s sea foam green and is curiously obsessed with the bright tings of the glockenspiel no matter the original style or genre of the artist, Shooter seems more to respect the original sound of the bands, getting out of their way as opposed to bringing a heavy hand and influence to the studio.

One of the knocks on Shooter as record producer previously was how he would sway some sessions in more of a heavy rock direction, especially when it came to guitar solos. Some of the obnoxious guitar parts on an otherwise solid record called Ashes & Angels from Kentucky-based Southern rock outfit Fifth on the Floor in 2013 showed how Shooter still had room to grow from treating the studio less like a clubhouse, and more like a shrine.

But on Jaime Wyatt’s recent Neon Cross, Shooter honored Wyatt’s original sound that blends in Outlaw and West Coast influences, yet found some new wrinkles to layer in. The new Hellbound Glory record Pure Scum is pure country, with few liberties taken in the rock direction. And though American Aquarium’s new album Lamentations does veer more rock than their previous record, it arguably veers more towards their native sound as more of an alt-country/Southern rock band originally.

The production of Shooter Jennings is not always perfect, but it’s always solid—something that it was tough to conclude during the period a few years ago when it seemed like everything being released had Dave Cobb’s name on it. Some of those Cobb-produced records will go down in history, or already have. Those Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Colter Wall, John Prine, Ian Noe records are nothing short of legendary. Dave Cobb defined the era, and arguably still does. But some Cobb-produced records you’ll never hear from again.

This isn’t a competition though. Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings are good friends. Shooter in some ways gave Dave Cobb is first real shot, racking up producer credits on Shooter’s early records to build up his resume. Shooter also introduced Sturgill Simpson to Dave Cobb, which resulted in two landmark Sturgill records, and now Sturgill is also emerging as a producer to watch with two quality records from Tyler Childers already under his belt, and now Margo Price coming up.

Shooter Jennings will likely continue to perform and release his own records as well. But you can tell with some of his projects that the passion for performing full-time, and trying to satisfy the country audience that includes many who just want him to be a knockoff of his famous father was grinding on his conscience. Sitting in the producer chair and leaning over a mixing board, Shooter has found a renewed passion and enthusiasm for music, and is using it not just for the famous who have the opportunity to be considered for Grammy Awards, but for some of the most important unheralded voices in country and Americana, like Jaime Wyatt, BJ Barham of American Aquarium, and Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory.

Every producer will have their hits and misses, and Shooter Jennings will be no different. But so far in 2020 and even before then, Shooter is the guy turning in more gems than duds.

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