A modest improvement over his complete mess of a sophomore album, 2005’s Electric Rodeo, Shooter Jennings’s The Wolf is still derivative as hell and a long way from good. Three albums into his career, Jennings seems to have no clue how to stake his own artistic identity independent of his legacy as the only son of iconic country outlaws Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter. The bulk of his output has consisted of pale imitations of songs his father already recorded and of the same brand of hollow posturing that has made albums by would-be neo-outlaws like Montgomery Gentry or Gretchen Wilson so insubstantial. Unlike, say, Hank Williams III, who finds a way to embrace his legacy and to build upon it with a real sense of scope and vision, Jennings’s dependence on his famous last name comes off as a crutch. Where The Wolf improves on its predecessor, then, is that it tones down the attempts at self-mythologizing through unconvincing badass shtick and, in its place, offers at least a couple of tracks with memorable hooks. The best of those cuts favorably recall “4th of July,” the single from his debut album and still, to date, his only hit.
Jennings doesn’t have any ideas of note, though, so the songs on The Wolf don’t aim for anything more than simple, hard-rocking escapism. His rote cover of Dire Straits’s “Walk of Life” doesn’t really work in that regard, making it a poor choice for a lead single, but the power chords on opener “This Ol’ Wheel” and the multiple double entendres of “Time Management 101” both make for potential radio anthems. Jennings can’t sing—at best, he does a poor imitation of his father’s distinctive baritone—and most of The Wolf, with the exception of the Neil Young rip-off of “Blood From a Stone,” doesn’t force him to try. But he works well as the frontman for his admittedly excellent band, the Three Fifty Sevens, who are at their best on the album’s most hard-rocking cuts, like “Higher” and the title track. But even then, there isn’t anything novel about the song arrangements—The Wolf is just straightforward, Southern-inflected bar rock. Other than a legitimate claim to the outlaw legacy and a certain degree of technical competence, there isn’t much to elevate Jennings’s The Wolf above the likes of Kid Rock’s Rock N’ Roll Jesus or Wilson’s One of the Boys. By now, Jennings should be keeping better company.