Apples don’t fall far from the tree. Though Shooter Jennings, son of the late Waylon Jennings, has spent the past several years mining a more rock attitude, his inflections, tone and ability to craft a country song are undeniable.
If not as resonant as the original Outlaw or as combustive as the man nicknamed “No Show Jones,” Jennings understands when to attenuate a vowel, how to slide to a note and the way hitting slightly behind the beat can add emotional punch. If these songs move from heavy throb metal to atmospheric Moroder-esque variations on the traditional country, his voice solidly places his wanderlust in the heart of George Jones’ essence.
Sparked by a shady producer implying he was working on a Jones project who solicited songs—quite possibly to use to lure Jones into working with him—from the young man who’d grown up around the legends, Jennings’ originals capture the man being honored. His material fits seamlessly beside the three Jones classics that round out Don’t Wait Up.
Opening with a chugging tale of betrayal, Jennings’ “Don’t Wait Up (I’m Playin’ Possum)” works the notion of laying low into a double metaphor. As his woman runs around, he’s playing classic country’s Vern Gosdin and Jones, also known as the Possum. A dark song, it slithers and lurches. But in true “can’t keep a good outlaw down” fashion, Jennings has a few numbers of his own to call as he emerges from the cuckold.
Equally forlorn and even more straightforward, “Livin’ In A Minor Key” paints a classic lonesome picture of life beyond the happy ending. It’s the sort of pain Jones exulted in, and Jennings more than marinates.
The choice in covers illuminates the spectrum of Jones’ oeuvre. The almost hymn/disco evocation of “She Thinks I Still Care” tips the lie—he does still care—like a cow in a pasture. Words stretch, vowels catch and as the song staggers forward, Jennings is a heroic stoic barely getting through.
“If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me” is more statement of fact. Every bar is closed, there’s nowhere to go…and since the bottle hasn’t drowned the memory, the torture’s relentless. Devastatingly raw, it allows the thin places in Jennings’ voice to absorb emotion in a way that reflects the pain.
Closing with the serious metal recasting of “The Door,” the underpinnings to much of Jones’ songs rise. Plodding, hard, slow, Jennings gives his friend, his mentor and his influence a new reality that feels as potent as Jones’ own steel-soaked records.