The Guitar Song (Mercury Nashville)
Nashville country doesn’t produce many double albums that aren’t greatest-hits compilations, so Jamey Johnson’s two-disc, nearly two-hour third album is notable just by its existence. It’s also notable because of Johnson, whose big voice, big personality, and even bigger album seem to be all Music City can talk about these days. Johnson’s not quite the outlaw he’s sometimes presented as—this is the guy who wrote “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” after all—but his gritty 2008 record That Lonesome Song, an instant classic, justifiably broke him out of contemporary country’s critical ghetto and into the pages of big-city newspapers and glossy entertainment magazines. According to people who don’t listen to much country music, he’s become the savior of country music.
The Guitar Song doesn’t live up to the hype, but it comes close. Johnson’s taste for mid-tempo songs and drawn-out instrumental jams makes it a drag to get through in one sitting, and there’s nothing equal to “High Cost of Living” from That Lonesome Song. There are some immediate high points—the simmering honky-tonker ”California Riots,” the Keith Whitley-penned “Lonely at the Top,” and the bouncing lead single “Playing the Part”—and another handful of songs that take a few listens to reveal their strengths. Johnson hits just the right note of tribute with covers of songs by Kris Kristofferson and Mel Tillis, though his textbook version of Vern Gosdin’s “Set ’Em Up, Joe” is just good enough, with Johnson opting for respect rather than a new interpretation. Then there are the ballads, many of them finely wrought but most of them entirely forgettable, and the anonymous filler tracks—at least half a dozen of them altogether—that clog up an already stuffed set. (It’s best to just skip the clunky novelty title track, a duet with the otherwise legendary Bill Anderson.)