Ed. Note: DCDC checking in with the strength. Weekend Review is supposed to be a recap of odd music encounters on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. HOWEVAH – in the always impressive ability of INLE to work the double entendre, we’re using “review” a little differently. Now we’ll let this Nashville native deliver his sermon.
As has been thoroughly discussed in these pages, the state of current mainstream country music is a sad one. The “country” radio airwaves are dominated by pop, worn out rock, aww shucks tongue in cheek-ness, and bullshit novelty acts (ahem, Uncle Kracker). What’s topping the country charts now? How about: Kenny Chesney and his saccharine ode to high school football (read:high school boys), Sugarland and their fake twang, now faux reggae sound, a ‘great’ song about lite beer, and the list goes on and on.
Is all lost? Is it time to close the book on country music? Change the station? Move on to only alt-country, outlaw country, or americana? (I dare you to define any of the three).
Just when it seems like this is the case, along comes The Guitar Song, by Jamey Johnson.
Like a fresh gust of whiskey soaked, barroom air on a hot summer afternoon, The Guitar Song is refreshing to radio weary ears. Songs of loss and workin’ man hard times mix in perfectly with tales of a hit-making songwriter and musician, struggling to come to terms with success.
First and foremost Jamey Johnson is a great songwriter. Most of the songs on the album were written by Johnson, with some choice covers pulled from the archives of classic country music. Set Em Up Joe, Mental Revenge and To The Good Times continue with the themes outlined by the Johnson penned cuts throughout the album.
There are some country radio ready singles. The first one, Playing the Part, sounds about as much like an overproduced Carrie Underwood single as anything by Kris Kristofferson does. This album is about everything that country music was, and no longer is. Instead of slick sounding record by numbers production, the tracks on The Guitar Song are allowed to breathe. Production is organic, with many tracks stretching over six minutes in length thanks to steel guitar jams and free form outros.
The bottom line is that country music has never really been about “cred.” The outlaw Johnny Cash did about 12 hours of jail time in his entire life, but that didn’t stop him from singing Folsom Prison Blues. Singing and living are different things, but on this album I get the impression that every line, written by him or not, has been lived by Jamey Johnson. There is something satisfying about that, and something that you won’t find scanning through your FM dial.