Music runs deep in Shooter Jennings’s family but so does production. His father, country legend Waylon Jennings, produced for a number of artists, including Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Jr., and Shooter’s mother, Jessi Colter. And over the past decade, Shooter Jennings has spent more and more time at the mixing desk, producing albums for himself as well as bands on his Black Country Rock label like Hellbound Country and Last Daze.
In recent years, Shooter’s work with Brandi Carlile won multiple Grammys, and he’s produced back-to-basics albums for country veterans Tanya Tucker and Billy Ray Cyrus. He’s also linked up with rock stars like Duff McKagan and Marilyn Manson, whose Shooter-produced album We Are Chaos was released last week. There are some oddities in the Shooter Jennings discography – he’s produced Record Store Day seven-inches by wrestler Mick Foley and Saved By the Bell actor Dennis Haskins on his BCR label – but he seems to become more prolific and eclectic with his production work with each passing year. Here are the 10 best albums produced by Shooter Jennings — with four of them released in 2020 alone:
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10. American Aquarium – Lamentations (2020)
The Raleigh, North Carolina band American Aquarium make music so firmly in the alt-country tradition that they took their name from a Wilco lyric. On their poignant, political, and often Springsteen-esque eighth album, frontman B.J. Barham sings about “the day I woke up from the American dream” on one song and hopes for “a better south” on another. Shooter Jennings, filling the producer’s chair that was occupied by Jason Isbell on the American Aquarium’s 2012 breakthrough Burn. Flicker. Die., gives Lamentations a lush, lively in-the-room sound.
9. Tommy Townsend – Turn Back the Clock (2018)
Georgia country singer Tommy Townsend has had a long relationship with two generations of the Jennings family. Townsend befriended Waylon Jennings in the legend’s final years, and Townsend’s 2003 debut Southern Man was one of the last albums produced by Waylon, who died in 2002. Townsend later joined Waymore’s Outlaws, which is comprised of members of Waylon’s band to perform his songs, and eventually began opening for and backing his son, Shooter Jennings. And things came full circle when Shooter produced Turn Back the Clock, a seven-song set of twangy traditionalist country that included covers of Waylon’s “Belle of the Ball” and Brandi Carlile’s “The Eye,” and nostalgic Townsend originals like “Plug the Jukebox Back In.”
8. Marilyn Manson – We Are Chaos (2020)
After collaborating on covers of David Bowie and the Doors, Manson and Shooter Jennings hit it off and wrote Manson’s 11th album together. And it turns out that when you remove some of the industrial machinations and heavy metal bombast you might expect from Manson, the snarling menace of his voice still keeps things firmly in traditional Manson territory. Former Black Flag drummer Brandon Pertzborn shares percussion duties with Jennings sideman Jamie Douglass, and there’s a relaxed, Stones-y sleaze to songs like “Paint You With My Love” and “We Are Chaos.”
7. Shooter Jennings – Countach (For Giorgio) (2016)
Perhaps nothing sums up the way Shooter Jennings blends a wide variety of influences than a pair of tribute projects he released back-to-back. 2014’s Don’t Wait Up (For George) was an EP dedicated to the late country legend George Jones, while 2016’s Countach (For Giorgio) interpreted songs produced by Italian dance music pioneer Giorgio Moroder. Countach also marked Shooter’s first collaborations with two artists that he’d go on to produce albums for: Brandi Carlile, who sings Limahl’s title song for the 1984 film The NeverEnding Story, and Marilyn Manson, who tears into an eight-minute rendition of David Bowie’s “Cat People” with theatrical flair.
6. Tanya Tucker – While I’m Livin’ (2019)
Sometimes veteran country artists can use a shot in the arm from a younger producer, like Loretta Lynn’s work with Jack White or Johnny Cash’s work with Rick Rubin, to revitalize their career and to cap their legacy. And Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings, fresh off the success of By The Way, I Forgive You, were happy to play that role for Tanya Tucker, co-producing a set of stately ballads and feisty acoustic songs written by Carlile. “Bring my flowers now while I’m livin’/ I won’t need your love when I’m gone,” Tucker sang on the album’s closing track. The world obliged her request: While I’m Livin’ was her highest-charting album in over 25 years, and gave Tucker her first Grammy win.
5. Jaime Wyatt – Neon Cross (2020)
Jaime Wyatt signed her first record deal as a teenager in the mid-2000s and appeared on a few movie soundtracks. But after a decade of struggles with addiction and a stint in jail, Wyatt reemerged as a queer outlaw country femme fatale, with a raspy voice and devastating slow burners like “Sweet Mess.” Shooter Jennings gives Wyatt’s voice the perfect amount of reverb, and his mother, the original first lady of outlaw country Jessi Colter, stops by for an intergenerational duet on “Just A Woman.”
4. Duff McKagan – Tenderness (2019)
Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan always sported the band’s strongest punk rock roots, the guy who’d played in the Fastbacks and sang lead on GNR’s Misfits and the Damned covers. But the only Guns track written and sung by McKagan, the 1991 ballad “So Fine,” is a more accurate bellwether for the wounded downtempo vibe of his solo albums. Shooter Jennings produced McKagan’s third album, and his country bona fides come in handy for the pedal steel on the bittersweet “Last September” and the spirited fiddle on “Chip Away.”
3. Hellbound Glory – Pure Scum (2020)
Hellbound Glory frontman Leroy Virgil named the band’s 2008 debut Scumbag Country, an apt description of the debauched and depraved sensibility of his songs. And Virgil returned to that theme for their fifth album Pure Scum, their second produced by Shooter Jennings and released on his Black Rock Country label. Virgil lives in Reno, Nevada, and twangy, trashy songs like “Loose Slots” and “Leon Neon” sound like they could only have been written there. But there’s a frank vulnerability in “Someone to Use” and “Ragged But Alright” that keeps Pure Scum from coming off like a broad caricature of life in the gutter.
2. Shooter Jennings – Family Man (2012)
The first four Shooter Jennings solo albums were all produced by Dave Cobb, who has remained Shooter’s co-producer on some later projects. But Jennings stepped out on his own to self-produce an album for the first time on 2012’s Family Man, an introspective song cycle about life as a young father and the son of country legends. And he pulled together a unique lineup of players for the album that included jazz pianist Erik Deutsch and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello.
1. Brandi Carlile – By The Way, I Forgive You (2018)
Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile had already worked with producers as renowned as T Bone Burnett and Rick Rubin over the course of her first five albums. But By The Way, I Forgive You was her first with Shooter Jennings and his longtime production partner Dave Cobb. She reached a new level of acclaim and commercial success with them. Carlile won three Grammys for the album and the single “The Joke,” a poignant song about growing up feeling marginalized or misunderstood. The album was also a swan song for Paul Buckmaster, the British composer who’d arranged strings for classics by David Bowie and Elton John, who died in November 2017 after providing spine-chilling arrangements on “Whatever You Do” and “Party of One.”
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