Shooter Jennings is a rich kid who hates Los Angeles—what a boring, played-out concept. But the son of Waylon and Jessi Colter also knows the outlaw aesthetic his folks brought with them to Nashville a long time back. Nashville, the kid will tell you, is home. Doesn’t matter, though, when he’s up to his eyeballs in phony-baloney Hollywood romance; the album, then, is another pop exercise in looking back to look past the shit. He dedicates considerable time on his solo debut, cleverly titled Put the O Back in Country, name-checking all the forebears and reviving his daddy’s trademark thump and bump. Curiously, though, Shooter is best as a more orthodox rocker, when he doesn’t try to live up to his last name and takes the “o” back out and drops the “ry.” The V-neck guitar stuff here (“Southern Comfort,” “Steady at the Wheel,” “Daddy’s Farm”) is great, as are the big, lofty ballad with strings (“The Letter”) and the huge, summer classic-rock single (“Fourth of July”). He’s more of a child of Johnny Cougar and the Van Zants than he hopes we believe.
In contrast, the only thing—via their much publicized bio—we can confidently comprehend about Kings of Leon’s own Tennessee-bred DNA is that they were raised in a traveling fire-and-brimstone ministry. Perhaps that’s not Shooter-sized privilege, but it’s also not a bad shoulder-chip to have. Yet, past the quartet’s compelling moral conflict (witness the drunk, dirty statutory rape on album opener “Slow Night, So Long”), who knows what the fuck influences these dudes on Aha Shake Heartbreak, their second outing. Their songs are disposable train wrecks, ugly music from handsome guys (that must be the reason everyone seems to care so much, right?). They spring their weirdness from all over the place—an exaggerated Southern drawl here, a melodic Television lead line there, ambient keys for no reason halfway through. It’s all anchored by a rhythm section that’s wonderful in its pure sloppiness, as if Bassist and Drummer Followill have no idea what song Chops and Marble Mouth Followill are really playing. Only once do the Kings offer an identity worth bugging out in a club over, on the reckless and fantastic “Taper Jean Girl.” The rest of the time, it all seems more confused and cynically gimmicked than inspired—kind of like a Pentecostal preacher, come to think of it.