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Music Review: Shooter Jennings Don’t Wait Up for George

The tribute album. It’s a great idea in theory, and a way to pay homage to a legendary artist, but usually the greatness stops there. The number of horrific tribute albums certainly outnumber the good ones, especially in the country genre, where the purveyors of pop country continue to commit atrocities against the songs of Nashville’s past. The latest EP from Shooter Jennings, Don’t Wait Up for George is not one of those albums. It’s a collection of two new Jennings-penned songs as well as three George Jones classics, and pays a loving tribute to The Legend.

The word on the street is that a number of years ago, Shooter was approached by a shadowy figure claiming to be the producer of Jones next album, who was looking for original songs. Jumping at the chance to work with someone he had known and respected since his childhood, he submitted “Don’t Wait Up (Playing Possum)” and “Living in a Minor Key”. It was later revealed it was a ploy to lure Jones into hiring the man as his producer, and he had no connection to Jones. After Jones’ death in 2013, Shooter decided to dust off these songs and record them himself.

“Don’t Wait Up (Playing Possum)” opens the set and shows Jennings continuing to push the sonic envelope of what a country song can be. All of the ingredients are there for a classic cheating song, the fiddle and steel guitar as well nods to Keith Whitley and Vern Gosden. Refusing to settle, he has infused the electronic elements that have continued to slip their way into his music the last few years. For all of the production that “Don’t Wait Up” has, “Living in a Minor Key” is a stripped down acoustic guitar driven number that becomes even sadder. You wish you could have heard George Jones sing it. The phrasing that Jennings uses makes you realize that for him, crafting a country song comes natural.

The last three tracks are Jones classics covered as only Shooter can do them. “She Thinks I Still Care” is probably the weakest track here. The drum machine takes away from the rest of his performance sticking out like a sore thumb, but he redeems himself on “If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me”. For fans of traditional country music this will be the most appealing track here. It’s pure Honky Tonk, “Solid Country Gold” if you will.

The album closes with a mind blowing total deconstruction and rebuilding of “The Door”. This is more than a cover; it’s a complete re-imaging, with a Black Sabbath style intro riff, closer in sound to his Hierophant era than any other track. This is far from your basic country album, but then again Shooter Jennings is far from a basic country artist. Refusing to stick to the formula has become business as usual for this “Son of a Rebel Saint”.