FLORENCE MORNING NEWS - concert preview feature
Jamey Johnson’s unsmiling voice resurrects the outlaws of country music
Jamey Johnson’s rough, grizzled appearance matches his rough, grizzled voice, matching his rough, grizzled I’d-like-a-double-shot-of-whiskey-on-the-double stare.
Nick Hilbourn/Morning News
Published: April 15, 2009
Reader, I usually try to maintain a bit of journalistic integrity in my music reviews and reflections, but this issue, I must step out of the mode of journalist and into the clothes of the music fan.
I saw Jamey Johnson in concert nearly a month ago at the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, performing with Willie Nelson.
Previously, I had only known him as the artist behind “In Color,” which received laudations across the board from country music fans to online music bloggers who usually favor the synthesized flash of indie rock.
His opening performance for Willie that Sunday night was striking, and mostly because Johnson was grounded. He barely looked up and barely cracked a smile except when one of the band members said something funny or there was a loud crowd pop after a particularly popular song. He reminded me of Bob Dylan in his stoic performance in Myrtle Beach alongside Willie nearly five years earlier at Coastal Federal Field.
Johnson’s gruff voice, laced with pain and passion for his art, caused many fans at the House of Blues (as many have done before) to draw comparisons between him and Waylon Jennings.
The silent, brooding type.
Listening to Johnson’s album, “That Lonesome Song,” confirms much of this trend in comparing him to Waylon.
Johnson is a country outlaw. Certainly, he is not as flashy and outspoken as the strereotype has suggested. He is the silent brooding type, waiting at the bar, mulling over a shot of whiskey. His music is slow, painful and soothing — cathartic even.
His song “The Last Cowboy” provides an introspective look at the artist when he says, “And ever since Waylon, I can’t find no one to buy into sad country songs.”
Reader, there’s nothing sadder than a sad country song that no one wants to hear, and Johnson’s rough yet flawless country voice can transform even slightly uplifting tunes into dirges, lamentations. To use a gross comparison (as so many others have elected themselves to do), Johnson transforms a song much like Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump transforms Pete Wentz’s vague, disconnnected verses into sacrosanct radio hits.
Except Johnson isn’t in the business of making pop hits. He’s in the business of telling stories and telling them with the voice of one who’s seen too much.
Goodbye to the good ol’ days.
Perhaps the days of great voices of country music have passed, along with the cowboys who presented a hard image against the clean-cut rockabilly that preceded them.
Yet, every genre has its idols who have since passed from the radar and the earth, whose influence has evolved into a sound that would be unrecognizable to them.
This is the way of time and the way of progress.
No one believes in playing the same song over and over on a “dirty jukebox that spins on a dime,” but Jamey Johnson’s response is that it doesn’t matter if everyone’s listening, rather that the songs are being sung and people are hearing them and nodding their heads in solemn agreement.
The words of comedian Sean Cullen that the best country music is “distilled misery” may have been a joke, but it certainly rings true.
Johnson conveys misery in song, so he can live in peace.
WHAT: Jamey Johnson in concert
WHEN: 10 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Murphy’s Nightlife, located at 1523 W. Lucas St., in Florence
TICKET PRICE: $20
INFO: (843) 667-9021