He’s recorded psychedelic metal and hard rock, released a concept album written with horror writer Stephen King and a tribute album to electronic disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder. So maybe the most unexpected thing he could do was make a classic, honky-tonk country record.
“I think in the past I’ve always felt like this desire to prove that I was not just country,” 39-year-old Jennings said from his home in Los Angeles, where he’s lived for 18 years. “At this point for me, I felt like it was a left turn to do a really country record.”
Jennings really can’t escape his country roots, but he felt the timing was right to revisit the genre’s earlier era, specifically the heyday of ’80 country music, on his new record “Shooter,” out on Friday.
“I just also kind of felt like there was a large disenfranchised group of country fans that maybe were a little tired of the politics or a little tired of where the direction of things were going,” Jennings said.
He connected back with Dave Cobb, the producer who worked on his first country record “Put the ‘O’ Back in Country” in 2005, and whose Grammy-winning work with Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton in recent years has made him one of the most in-demand producers in Nashville, Tennessee.
“That was my first successful country record,” Cobb said. “That’s how I came to Nashville for the first time. I didn’t know a lot about country music before meeting him.”
Jennings and Cobb were both producing Brandi Carlile’s critically acclaimed new album, “By the Way, I Forgive You,” when they started throwing out song ideas with each other and the decision to do another record fell out of that, Cobb said.
One of the songs, “Do You Love Texas,” is an ode to the Lone Star State, and features a chorus of singers, including Kris Kristofferson, Kacey Musgraves, Ray Benson and more, shouting “Hell yeah!” The song was released as a charity single last year to raise money for Hurricane Harvey relief.
“We felt like it was the perfect opportunity to give something back to Texas, so we called everyone we knew and loved and got them to record phone message and send it in,” said Cobb.
He peppers the record with rollicking good time tunes, like “D.R.U.N.K.” and “Bound Ta Git Down,” in which Jennings tries his best Jerry Lee Lewis impression while he sings about playing with Guns n’ Roses at the age of 23 and living in the Hollywood Hills.
“Anything I write is going to be autobiographical and true to some degree,” Jennings said.
But there’s also the crying-in-your-beer songs as well, such as “Living in a Minor Key,” a beautiful waltzy tribute to the late George Jones, and a love song for his wife Misty on “Rhinestone Eyes.”
“He’s made rock records. He’s made country records,” Cobb said. “But I think his sweet spot is the record we just made. That really sums up him a lot.”