With the unexpected and rousing success of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour bringing bawdy, boys-only redneck humor back into the national spotlight, it’s more than a little strange to see the equivalent male stars of popular country music increasingly demurring, growing ever more sincere in their courtship and storytelling. Matinee idols like Keith Urban, Josh Turner, and Billy Currington treat love with reverence and casual sex with happily polite tact: When the former goes bad it’s cause for weeping and wallowing, while the dissolution of the latter usually spawns nostalgia or a cosmic c’est la vie.
Consequently, what seems to be getting rarer is charmingly boorish shit-talk, the rough and manly joking of the barroom and honky-tonk that hearkens back to Jerry Jeff Walker, David Allan Coe, and Hank Jr. (not to be confused with Brad Paisley and Joe Nichols’s current fratty shtick, which isn’t actually funny). Even Toby Keith, the obvious heir apparent to that slyly crude lineage, has lately been getting big blue notes and claiming he ain’t as good as he once was.
Whether this is savvy marketing meant to please the ladies or just more fallout from the p.c. wars is uncertain, but it practically guarantees there won’t be a mass audience for Shooter Jennings’s wonderfully coarse breakup ballad “Aviators,” wherein the proudly homely son of outlaw legend Waylon Jennings leaves his lady stranded at the Waffle House, subsequently adding insult to injury by hitting on the poor girl’s mother and, conveniently, forgetting to tell her he shot her dog.
It’s just one wickedly humorous moment of many on Jennings’s second album; elsewhere, Jesus posts Shooter’s bail, and later, Jennings laments that “all your heroes turned out to be assholes.” It’s a near given it won’t sell as well as the hunks, but you get the sense Shooter couldn’t care less, considering how strung out and weary the modicum of fame he’s earned so far seems to have made him.
Growing up the scion of outlaw country’s first family (mother Jessi Colter was outlaw’s lone visible female and just released a fine new record herself), Shooter seems none too eager to emulate his daddy’s outsize stardom, even going so far as to cover Bocephus’s fame-sloughing classic “(The) Living Proof.” Most likely he’d have been happy plying his beloved Southern rock in perpetual obscurity, only the sounds of Skynyrd and the Stones got trendy again and now Shooter’s doing battle-scarred songs about drugs and groupies when he’s only actually had one minor hit to date. Electric Rodeo lacks anything so anthemically pleasing as “4th of July,” the Mellencampish rocker that got Jennings’s unsightly mug on CMT for a few weeks last year, and that probably suits Shooter just fine. Nashville ain’t been the place to git-r-done lately anyhow.