In the 1970s, the term “outlaw country” had a very specific definition, referring to country artists who ditched their clean-cut image in favor of a shaggier appearance, lyrics that flipped the bird at authority, and arrangements more influenced by the rawness of rock music than the lush arrangements of Nashville. But much like punk, the genre has become harder to define over the years. Lots of country singers have beards, a rebellious streak, and a rock sensibility. Does that mean they’re outlaw country? Not necessarily.
So what does outlaw country even mean anymore? If we’re adopting the vague, umbrella scope of modern punk, it could easily be defined as being true to yourself. And if we’re applying that criteria to Shooter Jennings, his seventh album, Countach (For Giorgio), is very much outlaw country — despite musically sounding nothing like the forefathers of the genre, or even the past work of Jennings himself.
As you can tell by the parenthetical of the title and the nostalgic album art, Countach is Jennings’ tribute to Girogio Moroder, the Italian producer who not only influenced the disco movement with his glitzy solo work, but defined an entire cinematic era with his contributions to Flashdance, Top Gun, The NeverEnding Story, and loads of other ’80s films. There’s a reason why Jennifer Beals, an F-14 Tomcat, Falkor the Luckdragon (with a machine gun!), and other celluloid imagery from the Reagan era all grace the cover. That’s a far cry from the Americana throwbacks seen on the fronts of Jennings’ earlier work like Electric Rodeo and his debut, Put the “O” Back In Country.
To further buck his more traditional influences, he opens the record by nodding to his late father, Waylon, whose song “Ladies Love Outlaws” became one of the core outlaw country jams back in 1972. Here, it’s his later hit, “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand”, that starts things off on “Loading”. For a while, everything seems normal: The older Jennings plucks away and sings in his lived-in twang as a blues scale builds around him. Then, about a minute or so in, the suicide doors of the title track open up to release a haze of Shooter’s synths, not in interruption, but in conjunction with “This Outlaw Bit”. It’s not a case of son rebelling against father — it’s a case of them working together, with Waylon’s song laying down the pacing and root chords before Shooter douses them in fragments from a shattered disco ball.