Song Review – Shooter Jennings’ “The White Trash Song”

shooter-jenningsWow, what a muddy mess.

Shooter Jennings’ “The White Trash Song” begins like Merry Poppins meets Justin Moore: lists of country artifacts bellowed out while silly little background sounds evoke memories of the Lily Tomlin scene in the movie 9 To 5 when she’s mixing up poison in the bosses drink and little animated birds come to perch on her shoulder. Vacuous, cliche lyrics are shoehorned into verses that at times are three sizes too short for the cadence Shooter wants to use, so they push at the sides of the song structure like the flesh of an elephantine Wal-Mart shopper testing the burst strength of her spandex.

After the ridiculous introduction, “The White Trash Song” reveals that it wants to be considered one of these up-tempo, extended country jams in the vein of Ricky Skaggs’ “Country Boy” or Alan Jackson’s “I Don’t Even Know Your Name.” The problem is the pickers employed for the session are just average, and there’s positively no space on this track for any individual performance to breathe. Meanwhile the rhythm sways to and fro and never finds the groove from the delay on Shooter’s voice and the phasing of the rhythm guitar, combining to make a wonky, muddy audio blob.

The worst transgression of “The White Trash Song” is that once again Shooter calls upon this ridiculous concoction of some cryptic chorus, delay, and reverb combination to attempt to bolster his vocal limitations; one of the most glaring and recurring miscues throughout his career. But this time it is taken way past the “10” on the dial to the point where his words become so saturated and incoherent they make Florida-Georgia Line’s blatant use of Auto-Tune sound rootsy. Shooter’s voice sounds good at the beginning, so why go with all this overproduced nonsense? The lyric track comes across as all breath, adding a polluted, filmy layer on the entire song that keeps you at arm’s length from the words and story and performances of the musicians. Little breathy vocal reverberations contaminate the track for seconds before and after Shooter sings.

This is possibly the worst-sounding song from Shooter Jennings we’ve ever heard from a simple production and engineering standpoint, which begs the question of why so many artists are lining up to have him act as a producer on their albums. Shooter has talent. Where he fails is in the decision making that is traditionally handled by a producer, letting bad songs and bad elements get in the way of what are otherwise solid offerings. “The White Trash Song” is a shining example of this.

shooter-jennings-the-white-trash-songWhat is one of the recurring themes in country music criticism? That’s right, is it authentic or not? By doing a song called “The White Trash Song,” this shows that Shooter is on the outside looking in. We all know who Shooter is, and he’s nowhere akin to white trash. He was born with a silver spoon up his nose, and has since worn a hard path between New York and LA in tow of his Hollywood girlfriend.

Does that preclude Shooter from playing country music? Absolutely not, and as soon as we start deciding who can and can’t play country, we’ve lost sight of the most important thing, which is if the music is good or not. But “The White Trash Song” is neither good, nor authentic. It’s Shooter’s attempt to identify culturally with a demographic in his never-ending quest to build a consensus around his music that doesn’t exist except for in an extremely tight and myopic scene of fans who have displaced all their sense of taste to follow the false notion that Shooter Jennings can in any way deliver any inkling of commercial viability to music that lost its relevancy years ago.

What is “The White Trash Song” about? I really can’t tell you because I can barely understand the words. If you want a laugh, check out the fail on this person trying to translate this mess here, but the song seems to be built around creating a “white trash” character that is either in jail or trying to avoid it. But for the purpose of what? Country music is about a story, something that touches your humanness. Sure, the music of this song is more “country” than most of Music Row’s “new Outlaw” songs, but just because something is country doesn’t mean it is good. This seems to be the most fundamental misunderstanding with “The White Trash Song.” It can’t even be a simple, fun song because the sound is so messy.

Scott H. Biram is the one positive in this song, giving a rousing vocal performance in the limited capacity he was given to work with. He displays both sides of himself positively–the souful Texas blues singer and the raspy punk-edged grit–in a very limited space and medium. But lyrics about drinking liquor AND booze, and he’s got nothing to loose? Come on man, we’re better than this. I do appreciate the general idea behind this song. It could have worked, but it failed in the production.

The idea that this song will have any sort of impact on anything when Shooter Jennings plays it on Leno tonight (2-28-13) is laughable, unless you’re aiming to have Brantley Gilbert fans invade you’re little Facebook music scene. Shooter’s plan to mitigate his critics by kissing their ass and incorporating himself into their music scene has been effective, but if I had $5 for every time an artist, fan, journalist, or music entity told me off record that they hated Shooter Jennings’ music but appreciate what he’s doing for the “scene,” I may be able to afford houses on both coasts as well. Of course they can’t let their true feelings be known because they’d be ostracized by Shooter and his toadies who allow absolutely no room for dissent or opinion. Once upon a time underground roots was about the music. I guess folks expect me to lie like them.

Go ahead, laugh me off as a die hard Hank3 fan with a grudge, but in the end I will look like Shooter Jennings’ best friend, because I’m the only motherfucker with the balls to stand up and give my honest opinion about his music, both negative and positive. And in my opinion, “The White Trash Song” is garbage.

1 3/4 of 2 guns down.

(This song is an augmented version of a song by Steve Young)