those who like their country gift-wrapped and stylishly
commercial, the kind of music that comes with the seal of
fashioned Stetsons and Colgate smiles, stay away from Jamey
Johnson. Stay well clear. He’s not for you. And his latest
album, the riveting That Lonesome Song (Mercury
Records), a 13-tune hang-on ride of honest
self-disclosure, needs avoiding at all cost. Johnson is a
denim-clad warrior. He’s a modern day outlaw. His music is
open, raw, revealing and, to be completely honest,
Having earned the
respect (and the royalty checks) for his songwriting (Trace
Adkins, George Strait), this Alabama native and former
marine now cuts his own path on this, his second album.
If you need a
signpost to what’s on offer here, a read of his liner notes
spells it clearly.
woke up in my truck one morning after a hard night out on
the town. With divorce on the horizon and my record deal
taken away, I set out for relief by getting out of my head
for a while. Instead of risking the drive home (I was
staggering drunk) I just threw my keys in the bed of my
truck and went to sleep in the passenger seat. It was over a
year later, after receiving Song of the Year at the ACM
awards in Las Vegas, before I’d have another drink. That
Lonesome Song is a collection of my observations of my
life as I saw it during that time.”
Well, if the lyrical
content and mood of this album is anything to go on, it must
have been one heck of a ride. There’s vocal gravel, pain and
suffering in these tunes. The album opens with a 39-second
set-up piece, “Released”. In this “theater–of-the-mind”
monologue, we hear the gruff and commanding voice of a
prison guard. “Mr Johnson, as of now you’re free to do
whatever you want to do…but stay out of trouble”.
opening line of “I was just an normal guy; life was just a 9
to 5 ...”as heard on “High Cost Of Living,’” Johnson’s
lived-in lyrics show another side of life, one battered and
bruised with conflict and domestic tribulation.
There’s sadness in
these songs. There’s a troubled suffering. There’s an acute
darkness. There’s the ache and pain of a guy strung out and
living close to the borders of mental exhaustion. Marry
Johnson’s rock bottom and hurtin’ lyrics to his drawling
baritone and you have country at its best. Many industry
stalwarts are hailing and anointing Johnson as the new
outlaw honcho – a revamped and timely Man In Black – given
the goods on show here, they may just be right.
When Johnson shades
and bemoans about a life and a wife lost to “cocaine and a
whore” (High Cost Of Livin’), it’s the stark sharing of a
guy who loved and lost, but in his lyrical salvation,
eventually finds the way.
However, on the way
though there’s some angst and pent up anger to deal with.
“Mowin’ Down The Roses” proves the point, that payback,
though selfish, brings its own reward. Blunt and emotionally
brutal, the track finds Johnson on a controlled rampage, one
that has him pouring perfume down the toilet, to clawing
pictures off the wall, to the final telling revenge, that of
mowing down the prize roses.
There are no limp
tunes here. There’s no floss. There’s no fillers. The
well-filtered pedal steel sees to that. Every cut here comes
charged, tingling with the musical energy of another time
and another breed of singer. Think outlaws. Think Waylon.
(Two tracks on the album are Jennings’ reworkings: “The Door
Is Always Open” and “Dreaming My Dreams”).
The last tune of the
album is “Between Jennings And Jones”. If you’re looking for
a place to harbour the talents of Jamey Johnson this tune
fits. Rather than just channel the reminder of a sadly past
era, Johnson is his own man. He sings his honest hurt his
own way. By his own admission, he’s lived a fair share of
the lyrics. He proves it with a sound defiantly and
definitely not Nashville. Jamey Johnson is a talented
maverick, one who breaks the perceived country star mold. He
does it, and easily, with an album that earns this
reviewer’s respect and endorsement.
Click the pic to order from Amazon.com.