Sometimes there is an improper or exaggerated use of the term cult artist, sometimes but not this time. Jamey Johnson is perhaps one of the most important and underrated artists (if not the artist) of American music. I do not limit my definition only to country (of which he is one of the most celebrated exponents) but his importance as a composer, lyric and now also of production are of all American music. I do not limit my definition only to country (of which he is one of the most celebrated exponents) but his importance as a composer, lyric and now also of production are of all American music. The cult of JJ that counts thousands and thousands of followers around the world, really began with this wonderful and perfect (not exaggeration) album of 2008 : That Lonesome Song, one of those records that push young people to try the way of life dedicated to music, one of the milestones of that genre commonly known as outlaw country. A record that in 20, 30 years will become in the memories of music stars and stripes as Dreaming My Dreams by Waylon Jennings or Darkness of the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen, a record to take as a comparison and inspiration for generations to come. It was underestimated but at its release it made the proverbial commercial bang with over 600,000 copies sold. A disproportionate number if you think that at the time the good Jamey was “out” of the lap that counted and the record is very long (14 tracks for almost an hour of music) and without a real single, but the farsightedness of Luke Lewis of Mercury Records rewarded the work of the bearded Alabama. And to think that the album had already been digitally produced in 2007 by Johnson himself, but then hit Lewis. A dark, very dark cover, a sad title and lyrics inspired by terrible moments in the singer’s life, did not stop the record from exploding like a bomb in the streets of Nashville that had spit it out as a rejection gone bad just two years earlier. It was a predestined Jamey Johnson, with such a deep voice, so evocative and his ability to write successful songs (he wrote a lot of them and for many artists) so that his debut in 2006, The Dollar, was produced by a living legend behind the console namely Buddy Cannon. But we know if the stars are not aligned, sometimes it just doesn’t happen and the choice (disastrous in retrospect) of the record company of the time to send as a single forerunner of the work Rebelicious, perhaps one of the most banal songs ever written by Jamey, It was the gravestone on the commercial results of the work. Fired, on the spot, something that started a downward spiral, exacerbated by the end of her marriage. Alcohol and depression together are never a good couple. And here we are at the return of inspiration, to take advantage of those experiences as Musa for his songs, to get out of it. The album is played and produced with his band The Kent Hardly Playboys and the 14 songs 12 are signed by Johnson, while two are covers of the greatest country singer that Texas has produced namely Waylon Jennings (Dreaming My Dreams and The Door is Always Open). A heartfelt and successful homage that makes these two masterpieces seem to have been written for him. A convincing voice and a perfect sound, nothing out of place. The work opens (literally) with the opening of a cell, almost to mean the release of the soul of the singer towards a new life and especially towards one of the most beautiful country songs ever written and that is High Cost of Living, a jewel of almost 6 minutes, autobiographical and direct, with a dry and dusty sound, pedal-steel organ and its unforgettable voice. This piece would be enough to make any true country lover fall in love with this new classic, a song that you would listen to for days without ever getting tired. With an opening like that, expectations are high and trust me they will not be disappointed, to follow Angel, a poignant country ballad that the sound of pedal-steel drives towards the abyss of the abuse of forbidden substances after the loss of a true love. The experience of the singer in the lyrics emerges and not in a veiled way. The sound of a jet landing takes us to a Florida paradise with Place out on the Ocean, where the guitar does an extraordinary job and Jamey despite being in this paradise on earth thinks only of her, cheerful sound but bitter feeling, typical country feeling. Beautiful this one too. Finally a honky-tonk vein, with the beginning of angry guitar in Mowin’ Down The Roses, a hint of southern and lyrics that is the only one that looks different, less introspective and deep but only the revenge of a wounded and abandoned husband who ravages with pleasure all the things preferred by the wife, the sweet taste (but ephemeral) of a material revenge. The song, however, is of superior quality, the sound has the taste of its land , Alabama and likes every listening more. After the Waylon Jennings cover already mentioned and Mary Go Round, another poignant ballad that this time tells us about a wife dragged into the self-destructive spiral of her husband, we have one of the other absolute gems of the record and that is In Color, Another modern classic and one of JJ’s fans’ favourites. A beautiful, intense and inspired ballad that has yielded to our nomination and charts, which his voice has made unique. The text is then a lyrical masterpiece, a jewel that tells of how an elderly monster old photographs of happy memories to the grandson, explaining the difference, explaining the intensity to really live them : “If it looks like we were scared to death /
Like a couple of kids just trying to save each other / You should’ve seen it in color.” Genial, one of the highest lyrical passages of the last twenty years of music. But don’t think that the masterpieces ended here, written together with Ted Gentry of Alabama (the band) comes the nostalgic western ballad The Last Cowboy, a slow ride to a distant sunset. As I told you, nothing on this record is superfluous or out of place and this song in its country simplicity is perfect. The title-track arrives and as if the masterpieces already heard were not enough, here is another one written together with Wayd Battle and the great Kendell Marvel. A beautiful guitar gait, almost a climax and even here the lyrics are not trivial or what you hear but autobiographical : “Discovered I’d been wrong for so long / I thought it was a the fame and the glory and the money / But all I got to show is a damn song / And it’s sad and its long / And can’t nobody sing along”. The song that explains his life is here, before our eyes and moves us almost the sincere way to confess his weaknesses. The second beautiful cover of Waylon and the bitter funny honky tonk of Women, introduce us to the end of the album and the masterpieces are not finished. Stars in Alabama, the second song written with Gentry, is a phone call between Jamey and his mother, a simple idea that however transforms the nostalgia of home and his affections, in a small fresco of the first part of his life lost in Nashville : “Got put stars in Alabama / To help you find your way back home”. A ballad supported by the piano and the beautiful and never quite celebrated voice of Jamey Johnson, a voice that should be a World Heritage Site. A song that needs to be heard and not told, that’s all. The long and wonderful work ends with the umpteenth classic of live performances by JJ : Between Jennings and Jones. A solid country style inspired by the ’70s, also known as autobiography, the title is explanatory in this sense and the circle ended because the song is written together with Buddy Cannon, the legendary producer of Willie Nelson (and many others) who introduced him to the country of Nashville and produced that debut that with his commercial failure had brought him where he was. This absolute masterpiece will be followed by another, even more monumental ( double composed of 25 pieces…you got it right!) The Guitar Song (2010), which will keep expectations and will be another absolute masterpiece, if we want to musically even higher than this, but That Lonesome Song was the forerunner needed, a kind of liberating catharsis to get to the future.
I said cult artist, it is not exaggerated it really is and not only for these first 3 records, but because it has become the absolute reference of the country of Nashville, writer and today also producer (has its label Big Gassed Records) but the cult is augmented by the incredible story that followed that 2010. In fact it has remained one of the most famous live act in America, sings as his backing singer the wonderful Melonie Cannon daughter of Buddy, but one night 10 years ago, as he was leaving the recording studio, he slipped on the ice and hit his head on the asphalt very hard, causing a brain injury, diagnosed after some time as a “hyper-vigilante” concussion, that is, he finds himself unable to focus on what is not strictly related to survival. So inspiration, writing songs, focusing on them was impossible. That’s why since 2010 he has done so many concerts, famous for his custom of never having a set list but spacing in his catalog of over 800 songs known every night, but only a record signed by him (along with colleagues) dedicated to the memory of the late Hank Cochran in 2012 (a cover album then) and only a few appearances on records by other artists: Blackberry Smoke, Willie Nelson and even Joe Bonamassa. It’s a shame on the one hand that an unfortunate accident has (for now) deprived us of his new ideas, of new songs to revive the cult but on the other you can say lucky those who can see one of his concerts. Look for them on Youtube, there are perfect ones and you will realize his charisma and his ability. I add that I have American friends who have known him personally or as independent country singers have worked side by side and have confirmed his humanity and humility , although it is an absolute and indisputable reference of quality American modern music. Do not hesitate, go and meet him and you can tell you witnesses of one who will remain in the books of musical history as one of the most important songwriters of American music, then if you start from this record then you can only come back here and thank me for the advice. It will happen, I assure you.
Trex Willer by http://www.ticinonotizie.it
(you can find original italian article at this link : https://www.ticinonotizie.it/jamey-johnson-that-lonesome-song-2008-by-trex-roads/ )