Editors' pick

Jamey Johnson

Country
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Editorial Review

Steve Knopper wrote about Jamey Johnson in August 2008 for The Washington Post:

According to singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson's official bio, he grew up near Montgomery, Ala.; rebelled against a religious upbringing by drinking beer and singing at Hank Williams's grave; joined the Marine Corps Reserve in the '90s; got out before his unit shipped to Iraq eight years later; moved to Nashville; and co-wrote hit songs like Trace Adkins's "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" before going solo. His second album more or less tells that same story, only bleaker, beginning with a pot-smoking teenager in "that Southern Baptist parking lot," ambling through a long stretch of loneliness and ending up with a country music career "Between Jennings and Jones."

The deep-voiced Johnson has that sad-eyed, straight-talking, storytelling quality that turned Waylon Jennings and George Jones into superstars. "Mowin' Down the Roses" seems upbeat on paper, but the lyrical punch line is "that you planted in our yard." "The Door Is Always Open" riffs on a common country theme, asking for a woman's consideration if her man turns out rotten, but it has an unexpected dark side: "When he reaches out to touch you, is your face turned to the wall?"

The not-quite-country, not-quite-rock feel in Johnson's backup band matches the dryness in his voice and lyrics. Curly steel guitars float through "Angel," finally trailing off as if determined to deny listeners crucial bits of closure. The sharp electric guitars at the beginning of "Mowin' Down the Roses" initially recall Dire Straits' goofy "Money for Nothing," but by the end they're conjuring up Lucinda Williams's no-hope "Changed the Locks." Johnson may know how to make big, slick Nashville hits for other people, but behind the curtain is a sad little poet who spits tumbleweed into every syllable.