Fans of early albums from Shooter Jennings will appreciate the singer's return to center on 'The Other Life,' his sixth studio album, available for purchase as of March 12. Still far from mainstream, the collection of songs isn't quite as experimental as projects that followed 'Put the "O" Back in Country.'

With the exception of the first two minutes of the opening song, 'The Other Life' is straight-forward country album that relies on thinner production than 'Electric Rodeo' and 'The Wolf.' The emphasis is on the message and his voice, which comfortably segues between angry and discontent, to fragile.

'Outlaw You' is the album's signature track. Jennings is uniquely qualified to talk about the modern "outlaw" movement in country music, and he doesn't hold back. "Hey pretty boy in the baseball hat / Couldn't hit country with a baseball bat / Country isn't just about where you're at / It's about being true to what's inside of," he sings before adding, "You say you're an outlaw with the perfect boots / That you got from your record label's image group / Singing another man's songs with a big drum loop / Listen son, you ain't gotta clue / You can't buy true / Tell you what they should do / They should outlaw you."

The next song is the title track, which is equally strong for opposite reasons. Jennings drops his shoulders and falls into the sparse piano and slide guitar that paint the jazzy ballad. No, he's not a pure vocalist, but the son of Waylon never comes with anything less than full emotion. 'Wild & Lonesome,' his duet with Patty Griffin, is another strong ballad on 'The Other Life.'

'The Outsider' could have been a hit during the original outlaw era, and Jennings does it proud. Other highlights include 'The White Trash Song,' featuring Scott H. Biram. An acoustic open leads to a rowdy, rambling country-rocker that's as loose as a live performance. Studio bird and dog sound effects create a front porch jam setting in the listener's mind. It's a great fit for Jennings and Biram, two men who seem cut for the outdoors.

One other duet doesn't work. '15 Million Light-Years Away' with Jim Dandy Mangrum of Black Oak Arkansas is an acquired taste at best. The guest singer's entrance is jarring and difficult to embrace. At over five minutes long, it's a skip-ahead moment.

Jennings often speaks freely about the Nashville business model, but never lets it define him. Songs like 'Outlaw You' and the title track from his debut album are great songs before they're rants against the establishment. Typically, the venting is confined to a single track on any album, so Jennings' message never overshadows the artistic merits of the other 10 or 11 songs. 'The Other Life' is full of good songs, but few you want to repeat over and over. However, he stays true to who he is throughout, and stays just left of center from start to finish.

3.5 Stars

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