Sep 13, 2010

Jamey Johnson - The Guitar Song: A Warning List

Jamey Johnson's massive 25-song double-album The Guitar Song comes out today/Tuesday and there are some important things you should know about it before you hit that "download" button or slide the CD across the Walmart self checkout.

1. Adult Language!
By adult language, I don't mean there's cursing (though there is some). I mean this is country for grown-@ss men and women. There's no diary page stream of consciousness. No cutesy turns of phrase just for the sake of cleverness. No Hallmark card lyric love songs. What you will hear in these words is unadulterated pain, unfiltered loneliness, pure heartache and true love along with a genuine reverence for real country music.

2. Some Assembly Required
Most of these songs don't spoon feed the listener. They don't follow the expected delivery format of Nashville country songs. Everything isn't spelled out for you. For instance, "Poor Man's Blues" never says any felony was committed, you just know. The Guitar Song's lyrics are reminiscent of the best rock and most outlaw country in that they aren't entirely linear. You gotta put some stuff together for yourself. There are a lot more shades of gray than black &/or white (despite the thematically split albums "Black" and "White").

3. Exposed Influences
Some artists might shy away from covering so many well-known country classics, but Johnson says to hell with it and gives us a Kristofferson cover, a Mel Tillis/Waylon cover, a Vern Gosdin cover and a song the late Keith Whitley wrote, the wonderful opener, "Lonely at the Top." There's an appearance from Whispering Bill Anderson on the title track. You'll also hear a lot of Willie, Bocephus, Merle and more throughout this sprawling epic.

4. Radio-Unfriendly/Non-PC Themes
The Guitar Song covers cheating, drinking, drugging, killing, growing marijuana (in the breathtaking "Can't Cash My Checks"), debt, spanking children, co-dependency, lust, depression, divorce and more. If your normal listening habits include several hours a day of Clearchannel radio, this album may come as a shock to your system.

5. "Imperfections" Abound
Johnson's voice has been the subject of many a negative review of his work. Personally, I love his semi-nasal Waylon meets Merle voice, but I guess I understand how someone could not... no, actually I don't, but still. The recording of the songs, like on That Lonesome Song, make you feel like you're in the studio. There are pops, clicks, voices, hisses and buzzes in the background between and sometimes during songs. All this adds to the warm, organic feel of the album, but if you prefer sterile perfection, avoid this album.

6. Commitment Required
Obviously, with 25 songs on the record, this thing takes some time to digest. If you're not ready to invest several hours a week, you need not apply. It takes time to let the growers grow. It takes repeated listens to hear every nuance. And heck, some of the songs are 6 and 7 minutes long. If 3 minutes is all you wanna give a country song, skip The Guitar Song.

Well, I think that about covers it. I hope you'll heed these cautionary guides so that you can either enjoy this album responsibly or bypass it altogether. Take care.

(Mini review: The Guitar Song is a near-masterpiece, containing only a couple of weak(er) songs, that barely diminish the overall presentation. Jamey Johnson is on another level from the rest of Nashville. Standout tracks include "How I Don't Love You," "Can't Cash My Checks" and "I Remember You." Absolutely fantastic album. I'll give it 4.75 beards out of 5)

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