Before you can begin a review of Jamey Johnson’s The Guitar Song, you must first look at its competition. It doesn’t include the straight-up Americana that most of you readers would typically champion, and it won’t match up against the retro acts that still make the rounds of juke joints, roadhouses and casino venues.
Jamey Johnson can’t really be compared to any of those artists because he’s part of the current country music establishment – the same network that runs the Nashville machine circa 2010.
Understand, we’re talking about the same guy that gave us “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” a guy that had a legitimate shot at banking an entire career on writing ridiculously stupid and clichéd hits for other artists.
Instead of utilizing these talents and maximizing his growing list of Nashville connections, he did the sort of thing that his own legends would do: piss off the establishment and begin calling his own shots.
Not too many people do that in Nashville these days, and for good reason. But Johnson is both talented and confident enough that he delivers on this outlaw mantra, or as close as you can get in this time of fragmented genres.
Over a half million people bought his last effort, That Lonesome Song, and he even walked away with a bunch of awards – including a pair of Grammys – indicating that his independent streak may have actually paid off.
Heck, his notoriety is such that movie star Matthew McConaughey directed the lead single of The Guitar Song, “Playing The Part.”
Add it all together and it almost seems that we were destined to be disappointed with The Guitar Song, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the album is not without fault. There are way too many spoken-word moments that lose their impact after the third or fourth time. The album also sounds a bit samey as you work your way through it.
In fairness, it sure sounds like Johnson has lived to tell some of the stories found on The Guitar Song, or at the very least, he’s attained a mastery of composing a good country tune. The record is broken up into two sections: the “black album” and “white album” contain an appropriate amount of dread and optimism depending on the disc color.
Regardless of which direction you go, both sides are very much contemporary country albums. What makes them so unique is how today’s “contemporary country” could easily be called “adult contemporary,” with even Hootie having a run at the country charts.
In Jamey Johnson’s world, there are pedal steel guitars in country music with a couple of Telecaster pickers for good measure. There’s plenty of clever one-liner choruses to roll your eyes to, while admitting in defeat, “Yeah, that was pretty good.”
The Guitar Song is the first country album in quite some time that you’ll be able to remember for a year ahead, if not for the memorable songwriting, then for the fact that Johnson’s laid a fucking double record on us during a time when Nashville has never been more singles driven.
It’s also the kind of record that Johnson will forever be measured by, a milestone moment that can end up being his ticket into the hall of fame or his noose.
Video: Jamey Johnson – “Playing The Part” (directed by Matthew McConaughey)