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Jamey Johnson: The Guitar Song

Jamey Johnson covers Kris Kristofferson songs and sings like a mellow Waylon Jennings, but he’s no anti-pop traditionalist. On his audacious, frequently excellent third album, The Guitar Song, Johnson shares his dream of outlaw country becoming as dominant a commercial force as it was in the ’70s, over the course of 25 songs rooted in the past, but not indebted to it. Johnson’s limited but surprisingly expressive baritone and pot-friendly honky-tonk hearken back to a time when Taylor Swift’s parents were still in high school, but The Guitar Song is still a product of the present, addressing down-and-out people and upside-down lives in economically ravaged modern-day America. On the great ballad “Can’t Cash My Checks,” Johnson sings about financial and romantic ruin as if they’re one and the same, because either way, “it’s hard to stay honest in a world that’s going to hell.” The revenge fantasy “Poor Man Blues” might’ve been written in the wake of the Wall Street bailouts, but Johnson indicts crippling working-class resentment even as he’s stirring it up. A double album split into “black” and “white” sides, The Guitar Song is mostly dark all over, though the locomotive rhythm of the hard-charging “Good Times Ain’t What They Used To Be” delivers what country music has always been best at: a swift kick in the ass, propelling listeners out of the muck of everyday drudgery.


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