Jamey Johnson, Craig Boyd | Joe’s | Folk & Country | Chicago Reader

Jamey Johnson, Craig Boyd Soundboard Recommended Critics' Picks

When: Thu., Aug. 12, 9 p.m. 2010

Jamey Johnson's rise to country stardom has to be one of Nashville's most encouraging success stories. The Alabama native moved to Music City in his mid-20s without a contact or a clue and ended up writing hits for the likes of George Strait and Trace Adkins; as a performer he's found an audience for the sort of unabashedly dark material mainstream country has largely left behind. As Kelefa Sanneh wrote in a recent New Yorker profile of Brad Paisley, "in the post-Garth era, [country] has thrived partly because of its willingness to chronicle domestic bliss in plainspoken language." But Johnson, who scored with a song that closes with the couplet "I had a job and a piece of land and my sweet wife was my best friend / But I traded that for cocaine and a whore," clearly never got the memo. He'll challenge the Nashville orthodoxy again next month, releasing a 25-track double CD, The Guitar Song (Mercury), into a milieu that clings to the ten-song format—I can't even remember the last double album by a mainstream country singer. The collection feels a little bloated despite Johnson's stripped-down delivery, but it's still one of the three best country records I've heard this year. The first disc, called "Black," contains the stormiest tunes, mixing classic honky-tonk (including a killer take on Roger Miller's "Mental Revenge") with sharp originals ("Even the Skies Are Blue" puts a nice twist on an overused metaphor: "The sun might be shining / But even the skies are blue"). The second, "White," is comparatively sunny, though hardly Pollyannaish. Though a few songs flirt with a flashy rock sound, most of the album—which he'll surely preview at this small-club gig—is indebted to 70s country, particularly Texas outlaws Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. —Peter Margasak

Price: $25

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