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No longer knotted by familial fame, Shooter Jennings cuts the ambitious 'Ribbons' to comment on bleak times



Shooter Jennings with Bob Dylan
7:30 p.m. Friday
Zoo Amphitheatre
2101 N.E. 50th

Shooter Jennings has always had a strong sense of self, something instilled by his father, the late outlaw country singer Waylon Jennings, who told him, "Don't ever try to be like someone else."

As he's grown older, he's become even more his own man " a fact underscored by his current release, "Black Ribbons," a vaguely futuristic concept album inspired by the financial turmoil of the last couple years, and echoing the spirit of Pink Floyd's "The Final Cut."

It's an odd step for an artist whose first three records fit more in the country-rock universe shaped by his father. But while the adventurous album combines elements of progressive psychedelic rock and electronics reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails, it's far from a mess or a misstep. It's a thought-provoking effort that turns a light toward the dark corners of American culture, and rallies around the truth and earnestness of the people against the institutions that threaten to dehumanize them.

It's a bold effort that's even more in the tradition " if obviously not in the style " of his iconoclastic father.

"The people who were more traditional fans that always looked at me as kind of an extension of my dad's career, to some degree, were going to not get this record as much, but I knew that this was something I had to do in my personal journey as an artist to kind of show who I am a little bit," Jennings said. "It really is an extension of (my father's advice), because my dad told me that when I was really young and I didn't really grasp that. As I go along in life on all kinds of different levels, I see what that's about, and the importance of not worrying about fitting in, and being yourself."

Jennings earned the "Shooter" name for urinating on a nurse after his 1979 birth. He's long been drawn to music, spending his late teens/early 20s in Los Angeles fronting Stargunn, which blended his Southern-rock upbringing with the sleazy allure of Guns N' Roses. After pulling the plug on Stargunn, he moved to New York to be with actress girlfriend Drea de Matteo ("The Sopranos"), and recorded his solo debut, "Put the 'O' Back in Country."

He'd already finished recording the follow-up, 2006's "Electric Rodeo," by the time Universal South released his debut in 2005.

His third album, 2007's "The Wolf," dabbled in some (by genre standards) offbeat instrumentation and suffered from an inability to market Jennings in a way that did justice to his talents and tendency to push the boundaries of the country-rock box. He soon left Universal and cut ties with his manager and longtime guitarist, Leroy Powell.

"It just felt wrong. It I was like, 'I don't want to run this course one more time,'" Jennings said. "I needed to free myself and take a look at everything. To me, it's not like I won't cut another country album or whatever. I think that there's definitely a lot more Southern music in my future, but I wanted to expand what my repertoire was."

He spent about seven months in the studio, exploring and building a story and world around it. A self-professed computer/sci-fi geek, Jennings returned to the synthesizers and sequencers he'd dabbled with as a teen, and recruited author Stephen King to provide the voice of a late-night radio host, whose narration lays out a bleak landscape that deeply resembles the present day.

Indeed, the story was inspired by a 2008 cross-country trip Jennings and de Matteo took with their daughter, Alabama, during which he witnessed the financial meltdown and the resulting anguish expressed on talk radio.

"I was trying to tell it a different way " the way I saw the world going and how everyone is afraid of terrorists and their neighbor, and they're afraid of going broke, afraid of losing their house. It's all about fear, and everything is promoted by fear. And it's like, you just can't succumb to that," he said. "It's really about being able to step back and release yourself from all those worries and all the voices in your head, and actually be able to enjoy the beauty and peace around you." "Chris Parker

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