|Jamey Johnson – The Guitar Song
Country music fans and traditionalists raved with Jamey Johnson released “That Lonesome Song” in 2008. Some exclaimed that Johnson was the savior of country music and bringing it back to its roots. With the success of that album, fans wondered how the most anticipated album, “The Guitar Song,” would live up to its expectations. Let’s just say that country music is going to be kicked straight to the core. With a mix of self-penned hits, as well as a few classic tunes, Jamey Johnson has excelled in releasing a double album that will please the listener’s ears.
Rather than trying to pick the best song of the set, all of the songs are excellent in their own form. Each is wrapped in its own musical package of a story experienced and needs to be told. With that, we present you, a track by track analysis of Jamey Johnson’s latest album, “Guitar Song.”
Kentucky native, Keith Whitley, wrote a tune before he passed away called, “Lonely at the Top.” Thankfully, Johnson discovered the tune and recorded it himself. No matter what success one has in any career, it might be lonely at the top, but it is a pain at the bottom. The classic honky tonk tune could have been placed in the days of Whitley or the modern days of Johnson having a conversation in a bar.
“Cover Your Eyes” is a dark sorrowful song as Johnson sings about that the on-again, off-again relationship that has been messing with his mind. As he is leaving, he is telling the love to cover her eyes and not see him leaving. He is leaving out of her life for good and soon he won’t cross her mind again. The song excels in Johnson’s emotional vocals filled by the sounds of the steel guitar wailing and drums crashing like thunder in the background.
“Poor Man’s Blues” shows the contrast of a rich man versus a poor man and how the rich man will never realize the true blues and hardships of a poor man. The southern blues sound brings a tone of a classic Hank Williams, Jr. tune. One thing is for sure, a rich man may have fame and fortune and all the things in life, including the poor man’s lady. However, he will soon find out what happens when a poor man gets the blues and seeks revenge.
“California Riots” speaks about the time that Jamey went to California and realized he would rather be back home in Alabama than hanging out in California when it riots. The view and the people may be pretty there, but he definitely would rather head back to his real home. The tongue in cheek tune shows where Johnson’s roots really are.
Following the essence of “California Riots,” Johnson sings about his time taping the show, “Nashville,” which only lasted two episodes on Fox. It was filmed by the same folks that tape MTV’s “Real World” and it failed to capture the viewer of what really goes on in the business. In the tune “Playing the Part,” Johnson realized quickly that he would rather have LA mean lower Alabama. He wonders what in the world he was thinking getting caught up in the Hollywood scene that isn’t worth the ticket he bought to go out there.
“Baby Don’t Cry” is a sentimental tune that Jamey wrote for his daughter, Kylie. It is bedtime for the little one after the fairy tales have been told and the monsters under the bed have been check. Being on the road as much, he sings “baby don’t cry you’re never alone/when you need your daddy/just pick up the phone/and I’ll fly as fast as I can/and I’ll hold your hand/and I’ll make you smile again, but baby don’t cry.” The slow lullaby showcases the sweeter side of Jamey Johnson that some have never seen that shows what a wonderful father he is.
Two spiritual filled songs, “I Remember You” and “Heaven Bound” show the redemption and light filling Jamey Johnson’s life. No matter the hard times he has faced, he always goes back to the Lord. He keeps telling himself that he is heaven bound and he should not forget in what he believes in. Raised up in a traditional southern church, Johnson knows what comes first in his life with both tunes.
Standing up for the American farmer, the songs “Can’t Cash My Checks” portrays the life of a farmer who has gotten poor even with his hard labor. His word has more value than his checks written. He is hunger as he goes under in debt in doing the one thing he enjoys the most – farming. He would rather not beg as he tries to be honest in a world we live in today. The tune was co-written by guitarist, Jason “Rowdy” Cope, and the background vocals are complimented by Randy Houser. The emotional tune was first debut at Farm Aid in October 2009. Whether or not the listener is a farmer, in the times we live in today with so many trying to make a living, they can relate to the song. The song itself and performance by the Kent Hardly Playboys brings this as the top pick of the album. The mood resonates amongst fans both on the album and live in concert.
Right off the bat with the bass line by Kevin Grantt, it sets the tone for “That’s How I Don’t Love You.” It will continue to come back throughout the song as an eerie sound to bring the mood to the song, along with the electric guitars. Jamey Johnson sings about how his love has left him and now he pours the poison (alcohol) in as if it is his new best friend at night. Drinking his sorrow away is the only way he knows he doesn’t love her anymore. The eerie feeling throughout the song truly reflects the mood as if you are in a smoke filled room with alcohol being poured glass after glass to drink away a memory.
“Heartache” has a different point of view than one might expect as it is one from the actual heartache starting back to the caveman times. Relationships may not last, but the heartache remains throughout. The heartache is hungry for another victim just like a wolf knawling on meat. Jamey’s deep southern rustic vocals bring the tune to raw shape.
Another cover tune, “Mental Revenge,” was originally by Mel Tillis and Waylon Jennings sung it in the past as well. Rather than take an all electric instrumentation, Johnson and the band opted to go acoustic as in a picking circle filled with guitar, stand up bass, and dobro. The style gives it a throwback style unlike the original. The raw intensity with the vocals and instruments compliments the song and makes you want to hear more acoustic style performances from the band.
Taking a page book of Willie Nelson’s songbook, Johnson’s tune “Even the Skies Are Blue” is similar in style to Nelson’s legendary songs. Times are hard and even if the sun is shining brightly above, even the skies are blue. The slow groove tune showcases a modern take of the world around us and the hardships people are going through.
“By the Seat of Your Pants” is a classic country tune that talks about the tail of a dad talking to his son about life. With the catchy lyrics, the son learns that there is no rehearsal in life and you learn it by the seat of your pants.
“Dog in the Yard” sounds like something George Strait would cut, but Jamey Johnson makes it his own. He sings about how his love doesn’t like his friends and she is able to train him to do what she wants. She controls him like an old stray dog in the yard. The honky-tonk sound tune will get a few head nods from fellow men mistreated by women who want to control every aspect of their lives.
“The Guitar Song” features legendary Bill Anderson singing the first verse to show the rustic legendary conversation from the guitar’s point of view as being in the corner of a pawn shop. Jamey fills in with the modern times of the guitar playing to a packed crowd singing along. The grooving tune of the conversation between the two features the storyline of the history of the simple object of a guitar.
Setting lonely on stage of the Ryman Auditorium all alone late at night, Jamey Johnson sings with just a guitar and his voice for “That’s Why I Write Songs.” The hollowness of the hall makes the listener feel as though they are sitting in a pew listening to the heart of Johnson as he sings exactly why he is doing this for a living. It’s not just what he does, but it is what he is. Not only does he reflects on his life, but also pays tribute to legendary songwriters and the songs that affected our lives.
Another song previously released, “Macon,” connected with fans who wanted to hear more. Unfortunately, most radio stations failed to play the song at the fan’s request even after a stellar performance at the CMT Awards. Having Little Big Town fill in the background vocals make the song talking about getting back to Macon to love all night after being out on the road all the time. Read our full recap of the song here.
“Thankful for the Rain” talks about a love that comes and go just like the rain. That love calls and then soon plays him “like an old violin” and leave soon after that. The love comes and goes like the rain off the coast. He thinks he should be thankful for the memories (rain) as he knows she will be gone again. The slow take of the song is reminiscent of a classic Vern Gosdin tune with the simplicity and sorrowful tune.
Having a dip into the traditional country sound meets jazz, Johnson presents “Good Morning Sunrise.” The upbeat country-jazz feeling makes you want to snap your fingers as you sing along. The throwback sound has the classic sound from the hit-makers in country music from back in the day. Johnson makes it his own and excels.
“Front Porch Swing Afternoon” has a sway about it to make you feel like you are swinging back and forth on the front porch. The listener feels and hears the elements of the song, from the black berry pie to the breeze blowing throw the laundry hanging on the line. The laid back tune feels like you are comforted by the southern sights and sounds.
One of the stellar good old guitar finger picking songs is “Good Times Ain’t What They Use to Be.” The driving tune is one that definitely should be played on the radio airwaves. The song reflects on the good times from taking it easy to being out on a fast pace on the road.
Jamey Johnson has always paid tribute to legendary performers on his albums in live shows. Even more so, he has said in concerts that he hopes to teach others what real country music is by showcasing some of the top legendary tunes. Rather than rely on the ‘common standards’ that other performers sing in concert, Johnson songbook goes even deeper. For this album, he chose “For the Good Times” and “Set Em Up Joe.” In fact, the session for “Set Em Up Joe” was recorded the day after Vern Gosdin passed away. For both songs, Johnson stays close to tradition while making them his own.
One of the first songs released from the album originally was “My Way to You.” However, some radio stations didn’t add it to their playlists because they are probably afraid of honest to goodness country music than what is currently on the airwaves. Having the song at the end of the album is a great ending point of redemption after going through a journey of darkness. Several have discussed what the “you” is, but after listening to the album in full it seems clear that he is finding his way to God after a path of wrong roads and missteps.
By far, “The Guitar Song,” will be one of 2010’s album of the year. With the formula of Jamey Johnson, alongside the Kent Hardly Playboys band, country music fans will not be disappointed.
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website with over 20 years experience in music journalism, concert planning, photography, and promotion. Jessica is a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the 2019 Leadership Kentucky BRIGHT Class and a recipient of the Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award. Listen to her each week on WFKY on Friday mornings for the Nashville News Roundup.