THE POST BULLETIN – concert preview
Sunday's Riverside show features country star
By Tom Weber
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
Jamey Johnson's country music sometimes sounds decidedly retro, but he's definitely living in color these days.
Johnson, who performs a Down by the Riverside concert Sunday in Rochester, is regarded as a rising singer/songwriter in country music, with a style that goes against the grain of what's currently popular in Nashville.
His biggest hit so far, "In Color," was the Academy of Country Music's song of the year, and snagged Johnson a Grammy nomination for best country vocal performance. The acclamation came despite the gritty, almost raw nature of Johnson's vocals and lyrics.
But that's not the only way in which Johnson looks ready to turn Nashville on its head. Consider:
• After being dropped by his first record label, Johnson bypassed the traditional music business model and released his next album, "That Lonesome Song," directly on the Internet. The buzz the album created caused Mercury to pick it up for national release.
• His ZZ Top-meets-Joe the Plumber appearance, which rejects both the matinee-idol look and the central casting outlaw style of some country acts. Johnson's beard, hair and rumpled clothes looked genuine and lived in.
• In a town where even the hottest singers are still expected to pick tunes from Nashville's song mills, Johnson is perfectly capable of writing his own hits. In fact, he's already written them for others: "Ladies Love Country" for Trace Adkins, and "Give It Away" for George Strait.
Critics have taken notice. About "That Lonesome Song," the All Music Guide wrote, "Most modern country singers flounder when they try to put across a ballad, often loading down the lyric with sentimentality rather than real feeling. On an album that's almost exclusively ballads, Johnson never falls into that trap."
The online music service Rhapsody selected "That Lonesome Song" as the top country album of the year, and said Johnson's style is in contrast to "the slick country pop" that dominates today's country music scene.
Johnson was born in Alabama and grew up listening to Alan Jackson and Alabama. He spent eight years in the Marine Corps reserve, and after moving to Nashville worked construction jobs while trying to get his music noticed. His first album, "The Dollar," came out in 2005. After a divorce, Johnson went into seclusion to concentrate on writing the songs that eventually formed "That Lonesome Song."
This summer finds Johnson on the road, performing at country music festivals and county fairs. He recently told Billboard magazine he has about 40 songs backlogged. As they are recorded some might be released, not as part of an album, but on their own -- probably digitally. "We're always looking for innovative ways to bring our songs to the people," he told Billboard.