From the opening moments of his new album, Shooter Jennings articulates 21st-century alienation, isolation and fear. Jennings imagines the U.S. as a place where freedom has eroded completely. The streets are patrolled by troops, the media controlled by the government. Only one honest voice remains: a late-night radio host named Will O' The Wisp, played by Stephen King. Jennings is understandably fascinated by radio, given that he hosts a show on Sirius XM's Outlaw Country.
During one of the interstitial pieces that feature King's character, we hear the last independent broadcast that Will O' The Wisp's listeners will ever hear. As men with guns approach his studio, King offers commentary on the world that was, and a look into the world that could be, and he plays the music of the one band that matters to him — which is, of course, Shooter Jennings and Hierophant.
On Black Ribbons, Jennings illustrates the despair that seems to be the zeitgeist now with dark, densely textured songs. He borrows heavily from Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers and The Beatles circa Abbey Road.
Like a lot of the weighty music to which it pays homage, Black Ribbons is not an easy album to listen to, with its keyboard blips and lengthy jams, not to mention the fact that the whole thing clocks in at around 70 minutes. But it's ambitious, emotionally on target and quite beautiful at times.
Despite the desolation portrayed on his new album, Jennings asks the question that so many of us ask in this era of economic decline, lack of trust in government and general uncertainty: Can we still hope for a better future? Jennings need only look to his real-life 2-year-old daughter, Alabama, the subject of the song "God Bless Alabama," to know that the answer is yes. No matter how bad things get, there's hope to be found in truth and in love, whatever your truth happens to be, and whomever you happen to love.