The list of distinguished artists who have recorded “Song for the Life” is a long one, but Alan Jackson is the only one who managed to make a hit out of it.
That radio played this pensive and philosophical ballad at all is a testament to Jackson’s incredible popularity at the time. Its mere presence on the airwaves elevated the genre for the handful of weeks it was in heavy rotation.
When you have some time, check out the other versions of this by the Seldom Scene, Johnny Cash, Jerry Jeff Walker, Alison Krauss, John Denver, Waylon Jennings, Kathy Mattea, and its writer, Rodney Crowell. It’s one of those songs that reveals quite a bit about where a singer is in their life and how they feel about the meaning of it all.
For my money, Jackson’s reading is the best, though I suspect he’d hit it even further out of the park if he recorded it again today.
First as a songwriter, then as a new country superstar, and currently as an alternative country icon, Rodney Crowell has made an indelible mark on country music for nearly four decades.
Born and raised in Houston, Texas, he was already a bandleader in high school, heading up a teenage outfit called the Arbitrators. He was only 22 when he moved to Nashville, and by 1975, he’d been discovered by Jerry Reed, who heard him doing an acoustic set. Reed not only recorded one of his songs, but also signed him to his publishing company.
Crowell was soon a member of Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band, and she was the first to record some of his compositions that went on to be big hits for other artists, including: “I Ain’t Living Long Like This”, a #1 hit for Waylon Jennings; “‘Til I Gain Control Again”, a #1 hit for Crystal Gayle; “Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”, a #1 hit for the Oak Ridge Boys; and “Ashes By Now”, a top five hit for Lee Ann Womack.
His remarkable songwriting talent led to a record deal with Warner Bros. While a trio of albums for the label were critically acclaimed, they failed to earn him success on the radio or at retail. But as would be the case for his entire career, other artists mined those records for hits. Most notably, “Shame on the Moon” became a #2 pop hit for Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band.
Crowell took a break from his solo career to focus on his songwriting and production responsibilities for then-wife Rosanne Cash. This would be yet another successful avenue for Crowell, as his work with Cash produced several #1 singles and three gold albums. The relationship also helped set his solo career on fire. After signing with Cash’s label Columbia, his second set for the project was previewed with a duet with Cash, “It’s Such a Small World.”
It became the first of five consecutive #1 singles from Diamonds & Dirt, a gold-selling disc that briefly made Crowell an A-list country star, as five additional Cash singles that he had produced also hit #1 over the same time period. He received a Grammy award for Best Country Song for “After All This Time.” Two foll0w-up albums for Columbia also produced a handful of hits, with his final mainstream success being the pop crossover hit, “What Kind of Love.”
In the nineties, Crowell recorded two albums for MCA which were well-reviewed, but most notable for the second set including “Please Remember Me.” It stalled as a single when Crowell released it, but later that decade, Tim McGraw’s cover topped the charts for five weeks and earned Crowell a slew of award nominations.
The new century brought a reinvention on Crowell’s part, as he repositioned himself as an Americana artist with remarkable success. A trio of albums earned rave reviews, as did his collaboration with old friends like Vince Gill on The Notorious Cherry Bombs, which earned a handful of Grammy nominations and included Crowell’s “Making Memories of Us.” Once again, a current artist discovered it, and Keith Urban took it to #1 for several weeks.
Inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, Crowell continues to build on his legacy as a singer, songwriter, and producer. Most recently, Crowell produced Chely Wright’s confessional Lifted off the Ground and co-wrote an album with friend Mary Karr which features their songs recorded by several artists, including Crowell himself.
I Ain’t Living Long Like This (Waylon Jennings), 1980
‘Til I Gain Control Again (Crystal Gayle), 1982
Shame on the Moon (Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band), 1982
Though his Hall of Fame career has now stretched several decades, Kris Kristofferson will forever be defined by his legendary songwriting in the late sixties and early seventies.
An intellectual of Swedish descent, Kristofferson’s father was in the U.S. military, and as a result, he moved around quite a bit while growing up. His twin passions were writing and rugby, and he pursued both vigorously while completing his undergraduate studies in California. He earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, and while studying there, he gained distinction in boxing, and more importantly, he began writing songs.
He briefly pursued a performing career while in England, with hopes that success could help him toward his real goal of publishing a novel. When this was unsuccessful, he succumbed to family pressure and joined the army in 1960. Five years later, he left the army, which resulted in estrangement from his family, and he arrived in Nashville to pursue his songwriting craft full time.
The cuts came slowly, but after having a few chart hits by artists like Dave Dudley and Roger Miller, he became established around town. As the sixties turned into the seventies, Kristofferson’s pen became legendary, thanks to a string of hits for other artists. Sammi Smith’s recording of “Help Me Make it Through the Night” won him a Grammy for Song of the Year, while he earned the CMA trophy for “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (Johnny Cash) and the ACM trophy for “For the Good Times” (Ray Price.) Janis Joplin, who Kristofferson had dated for some time, found her greatest success after her death, as her recording of Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” topped the pop singles chart for several weeks.
Kristofferson’s notoriety as a writer piqued enough interest in him to lead to a successful singing career of his own. He had several well-received albums for Monument, two of which sold gold. Radio was mostly indifferent to the projects, with the glaring exception of his stunning #1 hit, “Why Me”, in 1973.
While he continued to sing and write songs, Kristofferson’s career took a surprising turn toward Hollywood, and he became a legitimate film star, winning a Golden Globe for Best Actor starring opposite Barbra Streisand in A Star is Born. He also had successful musical collaborations with his wife, Rita Coolidge. Meanwhile, Nashville stars continued to record his songs, with friend Willie Nelson even recording a platinum-selling tribute album in 1979.
His last major success as a recording artist came in 1985 as part of the supergroup The Highwaymen with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson. That same year, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, while the Country Music Hall of Fame elected him in 2004.
Over the past two decades, he has continued to release albums of self-written material, while continuing to tour and appear in various films, including a prominent role in the Blade trilogy. Essential Singles:
For the Good Times (Ray Price), 1970
Sunday Morning Coming Down (Johnny Cash), 1970
Me and Bobby McGee (Janis Joplin), 1971
Help Me Make it Through the Night (Sammi Smith), 1971
Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends (Bobby Bare), 1971
Why Me, 1973
The Highwayman (with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson), 1985
Me and Bobby McGee, 1971
The Silver Tongued Devil and I, 1971
Jesus Was a Capricorn, 1972
To the Bone, 1981
Broken Freedom Song: Live From San Francisco, 2003
A first class singer, songwriter, and musician, Jerry Reed’s talents ran far deeper than his tongue-in-cheek persona might have indicated.
Born and raised in Georgia, Reed played guitar from an early age. Music brought him comfort and structure during a childhood of instability. By the time he was out of high school, he was already signed to Capitol Records. Though he released several singles over the next few years, it was his songwriting and guitar playing that first earned him notice.
Throughout the late fifties and the sixties, his songs were recorded by Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Johnny Cash, Brenda Lee, and others. He also became an in-demand session guitarist, with a career highlight being the sessions he played with Presley, who feel in love with Reed when he heard his 1967 single, “Guitar Man.”
A strong working relationship with Chet Atkins led to a contract with RCA and further raised Reed’s profile. By the late sixties, Reed was getting critical notice for his own records. He had his big breakthrough in 1970, when “Amos Moses” became a gold-selling pop and country hit. In 1971, ‘When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” became his first #1 country single and another big pop hit.
Throughout the seventies, Reed matched popular singles and albums with high profile media exposure. He was a regular on Glen Campbell’s television show, and he appeared in several films. His greatest notoriety came as Cledus Snow in the wildly popular Smokey and the Bandit film series. “East Bound and Down” was recorded for the soundtrack of the first film, and became one of his biggest hits.
Reed’s recording career had a second wind when he released the 1982 album The Man with the Golden Thumb. Often rated as his strongest studio album, it featured the classic hit “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft).” Reed quickly followed with the hit album, The Bird. The title track had him mimicking both George Jones and Willie Nelson, and the album also featured a hit cover of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song, “Down on the Corner.”
The nineties brought a fun collaboration with Mel Tillis, Bobby Bare, and Waylon Jennings, a live album dubbed Old Dogs. Reed also starred as the coach in the box office smash, The Waterboy. Illness sidelined him as he aged, and he passed away in 2008 due to complications caused by emphyzema.
Guitar Man, 1967
Amos Moses, 1970
When You’re Hot, You’re Hot, 1971
Lord, Mr. Ford, 1973
East Bound and Down, 1977
She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft), 1982
The Unbelievable Guitar and Voice of Jerry Reed, 1967
A new covers album from LeAnn Rimes would likely draw comparisons to her 1999 self-titled effort, which found her covering the likes of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. But this time, there’s a twist: All of the songs she’s covering were originally recorded by male artists. Thus, Rimes is re-interpreting them in a female perspective.
And while 1999′s LeAnn Rimes album might have given you a feeling that you were listening to really good karaoke singer, as her versions seldom strayed far from the originals, Rimes’ new collection Lady and Gentlemen finds her taking substantial liberties with these classic hits. She even alters lyrics on Waylon Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman” and “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line” (re-titled as “The Only Mama That’ll Walk the Line”). The songs are given modern, yet reverent, production arrangements, with Rimes adding her own personal style to each one, resulting in a uniquely creative effort.
Besides the obviously strong song material, what really makes Lady and Gentlemen a keeper is the fact that, although she covers everyone from Jennings to Jones to Haggard, the project remains first and foremost a LeAnn Rimes album. She sounds entirely in her element – After all, she grew up listening to these songs – and the result is a strong set of performances that sound natural, sincere, and unaffected.
Rimes and her co-producers Vince Gill and Darrell Brown craft arrangements that sound simultaneously vintage and modern, never treating the songs as museum pieces. The albums kicks off with Rimes’ cover of John Anderson’s “Swingin,” which was released as the project’s first single last year. Though it barely made a ripple on the charts, it easily ranked as one of the best singles of the year.
While everything about the original Anderson recording screamed “eighties,” LeAnn speeds up the tempo, and transforms the über-cheesy hit into a modern-day jam session. In listening to Rimes’ vocal delivery, you’d think she chugged down a pot of espresso before heading into the recording studio. Like an auctioneer at the county fair, Rimes calls out the verses in rapid-fire succession, while the band furiously plucks away behind her.
The better part of the album finds Rimes backed with simple acoustic and steel guitar-driven arrangements, such as on the Freddy Fender cover “Wasted Days and Wasted Night” – worth hearing for her Spanish accent alone. She utilizes a similar sonic approach on Merle Haggard’s “I Can’t Be Myself,” notable also for a vocal that sounds deeply plaintive, while also casting a feminine tone over the classic lyric. While her version of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons” carries a deep retro vibe, she adds an extra layer of sass to the lyric, which makes the song one of the album’s most interesting tracks.
She deviates from the vintage approach with her cover of Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name,” and instead puts a blue-eyed country soul spin on the nineties hit. Such an approach accents the deep bluesy tone in her voice, but the unnecessary addition of a gospel choir distracts from the raw emotion that came through in Gill’s original recording. Though interesting, her take on “When I Call Your Name” is less satisfying than many of the album’s other tracks.
Perhaps the song that gives her the biggest shoes to fill is the classic Bobby Braddock/ Curly Putman composition “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” a hit for George Jones in 1980, and widely regarded as the greatest country song of all time. Appropriately, Rimes and Gill’s approach places the classic lyric front and center, with no superfluous bells or whistles. Rimes is backed by little more than an acoustic guitar as she recounts the dark tale of a man who loved his woman until the very end, even when his love was no longer requited. She gives a remarkably moving performance of the familiar ballad, even when delivering the spoken-word portion. Vince Gill adds his distinctive harmony touch to the track, and the result sounds absolutely haunting, making “He Stopped Loving Her Today” a strong contender for being the album’s best track.
The album closes with the original songs “Crazy Women” and “Give,” both of which have seen release as singles. “Crazy Women” sounds like something out of a Broadway musical (or a Laura Bell Bundy album, for that matter), and Rimes deftly pulls it off with a broadly entertaining performance of the wickedly snarky tune. Current single “Give” returns Rimes to a fully modern pop-country style. While the philosophical song – a call for proactivity and benevolence in the world – is a strong composition, the musical styling is an awkward fit for an album that is largely retro in style. It’s a good song – It just sounds like it belongs on a different album.
As a special treat for her fans, Rimes offers a re-recorded version of her classic 1996 debut single “Blue,” commemorating the fifteen-year anniversary of the song’s release. The new version sounds even more traditional than the original, which is saying a lot, while also displaying Rimes’ growth as a vocalist and lyrical interpreter. She gives a performance with more restraint than the original, connecting with the underlying emotions on an even deeper level than before, while the simpler, twangier arrangement highlights the timeless nature of the Bill Mack composition. It’s impressive to note the ease with which “Blue” fits in among all these revered classics. As one who’s known and loved the song “Blue” for years, I do not say this lightly: The new version of “Blue” rivals the original.
A binding thread running throughout the set is the palpable reverence Rimes displays for these songs, which makes Lady and Gentlemen one of the most intriguing and wholly satisfying releases of 2011, and of Rimes’ own career output. It all comes together so well that the project’s success seem perfectly natural. LeAnn Rimes is a great singer, and these are great songs, so in her tackling these timeless tunes, it logically follows that a great album would result.
There was a lot of good music out there in 2010, provided you knew where to look. Sometimes, you could even find it on the radio. Here are the top ten albums of 2010, according to our staff:
#10 Easton Corbin Easton Corbin
With the charisma of Clay Walker and the chops of George Strait, Easton Corbin sauntered onto the mainstream country music scene with a hit song that –refreshingly– name-checked “country” in all the right ways. He needs no such affirmation, though, as his debut album is a collection of effortlessly neo-traditionalist songs, ripe with sincerity. It’s fair to compare Corbin to his obvious influences, but there’s something about the natural, youthful effervescence he brings to his music that makes it sparkle all on its own. – Tara Seetharam
#9 Freight Train Alan Jackson
Like an old, trusted friend, Freight Train is easy to take for granted – and that’s a shame, because it’s as rousing as any of the boundary-pushing albums released this year. Jackson returns to his signature sound on this album, sinking comfortably into the set of twelve songs but never skimping on emotional investment. From the smoking “Freight Train” to the exquisite “Till the End” to the shuffling “I Could Get Used To This Loving Thing,” Jackson reminds us that his formula of bare-bones authenticity and quiet charm is as relevant and rewarding as ever. – TS
Four generous hits collections were released in 2010, each one chronicling the entire career of a contemporary country music star. Individually, each double-disc set serve as the most expansive and thorough compilation for each artist. Taken together, they tell the story of country music over the last twenty years.
Alan Jackson 34 Number Ones
In the late eighties, Randy Travis did something that no other country star had done before. He became the top-selling country artist by a wide margin without making any musical concessions to pop or rock. In doing so, he tore up the old playbook. Suddenly, you could be a multi-platinum country artists without the added benefit of top 40 radio or accolades from the rock and roll press.
Thus began contemporary country music, the new paradigm that reached its commercial peak in the nineties, but has never come close to receding to its earlier status as a niche genre. A crop of young stars surfaced in 1989 and 1990, each one of them staking a claim to be the Haggard, the Jones, the Willie, the Waylon of their generation. Out of all of them, none struck a more perfect balance between artistic credibility and commercial viability than Alan Jackson.
Simply put, he is the most significant singer and songwriter of the past quarter century. So it’s no surprise that out of all of the country stars who’ve compiled #1 hit collections, Jackson’s set is the best, both in terms of overall quality and effectiveness in summing up an entire career.
Fact is, radio’s played nearly everything Jackson’s sent their way, and he’s demonstrated remarkably good judgment over the past twenty years. The highest of the high points – “Here in the Real World”, “Don’t Rock the Jukebox”, “Chattahoochee”, “Gone Country”, “Where Were You”, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” – aren’t just great records from their time period. They’re accurate representations as well, little time capsules that show Jackson as being centrally relevant to the genre while he was also making great music.
Today, with critical acclaim and commercial success becoming increasingly divergent pathways, 34 Number Ones serves as a powerful reminder that one need not sacrifice quality for radio airplay. Of the new tracks, Jackson’s cover of “Ring of Fire” doesn’t quite measure up, It’s certainly a competent reading, but Jackson’s already a legend in his own right. Just listen to “As She’s Walking Away”, the duet with Zac Brown Band that serves at the set’s bonus 35th number one. His mere presence elevates the track into greatness.
Tim McGraw Number One Hits
Jackson’s ascent into superstardom came at the peak of the new traditionalist movement. Tim McGraw got in just under the buzzer, breaking through a year before Shania Twain shifted the course of country music to a distinctively more pop sound. He’s since been able to maintain stardom by going with the flow of these changes.
At his best, few have been better than Tim McGraw, but Number One Hits documents his bookend years as a follower of trends. It’s the songs on either end of his hit run than are the weakest. Whereas Jackson has flirted with banality once in a while, McGraw has openly embraced it. He became a mega-star by alternating shoehorning the five-hankie weepfest “Don’t Take the Girl” between novelty songs like “Indian Outlaw” and “Down on the Farm”, all of which reek of the hat act herd mentality that was heading out of style in 1994.
But McGraw used his clout from those early hits to get access to better material, and his albums soon demonstrated a song sense that was unrivaled among the other new acts of the time, most of whom quickly faded away as pop ascended in the genre. The best of his biggest singles came over the course of the next decade. Classics like “Just to See You Smile”, “Please Remember Me”, “Angry all the Time” and “Live Like You Were Dying” were among the best songs on the radio.
For a while there, he could get just about anything into the top fifteen, but this collection focuses only on the chart-toppers. So instead of fantastic gems like “Can’t Be Really Gone”, “One of These Days”, “Red Ragtop”, and “If You’re Reading This”, this set features quite a bit of forgettable fare that hasn’t aged well. They may have topped the charts, but that doesn’t make “Not a Moment Too Soon”, “She Never Lets it Go to Your Heart”, and the particularly abysmal “Southern Voice” worthy of inclusion in a best-of set.
If they were able to suspend the concept to include a questionable dance remix of the #8 chart hit “Indian Outlaw” and the mediocre new hit “Felt Good on My Lips”, they might as well have just been more generous with the track listing and released The Very Best of Tim McGraw. His music has been far more compelling than this collection shows.
Dixie Chicks The Essential Dixie Chicks
The explosive crossover success of Shania Twain, LeAnn Rimes, and Faith Hill was in full swing in 1998, which left traditionalists hungering for a superstar alternative. In waltzed the Dixie Chicks, with a combination of musical credibility, traditional roots, and youthful appeal that instantly made them the darlings of the format. Over the course of two albums – 1998′s Wide Open Spaces and 1999′s Fly – they dominated radio, retail and the awards circuit.
Tracks from those two albums combine for fourteen of the thirty tracks of The Essential Dixie Chicks. All of the biggest hits are here, but chart success wasn’t the only determination for inclusion. Thank God for that, as less impressive top ten hits like “Cold Day in July” and “If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me” are left off, with the far more compelling “Heartbreak Town” and “Sin Wagon” in their place.
As good as their first two albums were, it was the 2002 masterpiece Home that truly solidified them as artists for the ages. Released at the height of O Brother mania, the timing couldn’t have been better for this acoustic album. “Long Time Gone”, “Landslide”, and “Travelin’ Soldier” all went top two, and the album swept the country categories at the 2003 Grammy Awards.
And then, the bottom fell out. Poorly chosen words about the president quickly overshadowed Home, and the princesses of country radio suddenly became pariahs, taking the burgeoning roots movement down with them. Radio slamming its door shut is what makes a hit-centered Chicks compilation impossible, and Essential Dixie Chicks wisely chooses to give equal representation to Home and its follow-up, the California country Taking the Long Way.
An excellent job is done of selecting the best album cuts from both collections, an especially difficult task with the latter album. Sure, it won five Grammys and sold well, but the platinum single “Not Ready to Make Nice” was the only real hit. Thankfully, we’re treated to gems like “Top of the World” and “Truth No. 2″ from Home and “The Long Way Around”, “Easy Silence,” and “Lubbock or Leave It” from Taking the Long Way.
And while a case could be made for some great tracks left off – “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)”, “More Love”, and “Voice Inside My Head” come to mind – everything that’s here is essential listening. Then again, the Chicks could have randomly picked any 30 songs from the four albums represented here and still ended up with a great collection of music, so high has their standard of excellence been all along. How many other superstar country artists could do the same?
Brad Paisley Hits Alive
If the Dixie Chicks best represent the last gasp of lofty aspiration in mainstream country music over the past twelve years, Brad Paisley best represents the mediocrity the genre was willing to settle for. Rising to fame around the same time as the Chicks, Paisley was similarly touted as a traditional savior for the increasingly pop-influenced genre.
And for more than ten years, he’s lived up to the traditionalist part, rarely flirting with crossover sounds. Much like Alan Jackson, Paisley’s sound hasn’t changed much over time. But unlike Jackson, Paisley’s point of view hasn’t changed much either. He’s been releasing antiseptic, mostly dull radio fodder for most of his career, getting regular radio play with an endless stream of interchangeable love songs and party anthems.
Hits Alive attempts to assess his work to date, and it takes an odd approach. A disc of studio hits is paired with a disc of live recordings of his hits. Figuring out the guiding principle in song selection is near impossible. Some of his signature hits – “I’m Gonna Miss Her”, “Letter to Me”, “Waitin’ on a Woman” – appear only in live form. Songs that practically beg to be livened up, like “Ticks”, “The World”, and “Celebrity” – are only here in their studio incarnations. Bizarrely, “Alcohol” and “Mud on the Tires”, are presented in both forms.
The double dipping means early hits like “Who Needs Pictures”, “Wrapped Around”, “Two People Fell in Love”, and “I Wish You’d Stay” are omitted entirely. That’s a shame, because they’re all better than his string of condescending and slightly misogynist love songs that do make the cut, the worst offenders being “The World” and the jaw-dropping “Little Moments”, the latter providing a list of endearing traits that would be insulting if he was singing about his child, let alone his partner.
Thankfully, many of his best moments are included, most notably “Whiskey Lullaby” and “When I Get Where I’m Going”, two hits that have gone on to become genre standards in the years since their release. Plus, the live disc brings some unexpected treats. “Time Warp” showcases his stunning instrumental talent, while the hits “Water” and “American Saturday Night” truly do come alive on stage, making them sound better here than they did on the radio.
Of the four collections, Paisley’s may be the least impressive, but it’s still a decent representation of one of country music’s last superstars, and it speaks volumes about the creative holding pattern that still paralyzes the genre. Unless the spiritual successors to Alan Jackson or the Dixie Chicks come along, Paisley’s might be as good as it’s gonna get on country radio.
The country boy as fish out of the water in Los Angeles. Or New York. Or Detroit. It’s a pretty common theme in country music. Jamey Johnson does his own spin on this theme with his new single, “Playing the Part.” It’s not terribly bad, but it’s not terribly good, either. “Big City” certainly doesn’t have to worry about losing its slot on the Waffle House Jukebox.
Despite a busy little beat, Johnson remains only a step above lethargic. His “Randy Travis 45 on 33 1/3 speed” vocal delivery worked for the slowly revealing lyrics of “In Color” and “High Cost of Living.” But it lets him down here. Even the addiction reference feels obligatory, with Johnson repeating the “pills’ and “Hollywood hills” rhyme that worked much better on Faith Hill’s “When the Lights Go Down.”
That record worked because Hill actually sounded like someone who could have known someone in L.A. who’d gone down that road. Johnson’s got a gold album under his belt and has won a few awards, but it’s a stretch to picture him as a country boy who went chasing fame and fortune in California and is now collapsing under the weight of his success.
It was a stroke of marketing brilliance for Johnson to package himself as a modern-day Outlaw, making it far easier for him to reach a targeted demographic that would eagerly embrace him. Lord knows they’re going to eat these limited editions up like Taylor Swift fans blew their Sweet Sixteen money on this.
But he’s yet to really demonstrate that he could be the second coming of Waylon Jennings or Willie Nelson. Right now, he’s got a shot at being a modern-day Gary Stewart or Mel Street, but he’s going to need better material than this to get there.
Like so much of country music today, and pop for that matter, the marketing and media campaigns are dramatically outpacing the development of the music. Artists who have an album or two under their belt are being heralded as the new incarnation of legends with thirty-year careers. It’s an insult to the legends and an unfair burden to place on artists that are still honing their craft.
Because in the end, the hype will die down and the music is all we’ll be left with. I’d love to see Johnson become the traditional country legend that he’s been prematurely ordained, but he’s barely out of the starting gate, and I don’t see him getting much further down the road with material like this.