Jamey Johnson, “High Cost of Living”

jamey-johnsonThe second single from Jamey Johnson’s That Lonesome Song is also the lead-off track for the acclaimed album, and it establishes both the theme and tone of the project. It speaks to Johnson’s confidence as a singer and a writer that he is willing to give voice to a character whose actions should deem him completely unlikable. Through the careful construction of a remorse-laden inner monologue, Johnson gives his character dignity.

I remember my mentor in college, the inimitable Dr.Virginia Osborn,  saying this once: “We want sympathy for ourselves, and justice for everyone else. So we judge ourselves by our intentions and everyone else by their actions.” The man in this song has thrown away his entire life, choosing drugs and alcohol over his loving wife. Such men are the bottom-dwellers of our society, looked upon with scorn and disdain. We judge them by their actions. Johnson’s “High Cost of Living” challenges us to think about their intentions. Like so much of great art, it illuminates the humanity that hides in the shadows of shame and sorrowful regret.

Written by Jamey Johnson and James Slater

Grade: A

Listen: High Cost of Living



  1. Nice review Kevin, and your professor Dr. Osborn is very wise, words to live by for sure.

    This is my favorite song of all from JJ’s album. Great stuff! And this one in particular reminds me of something Kris Kristofferson might have written.

  2. Yep, I think ‘A’ is probably the grade I’d give it according to our scale – maybe ‘A-‘ if I was having a really critical day. There are some kinda clunky spots where Johnson simplifies the character’s psychology a little too much for my taste – the “I didn’t have to think or talk or feel” line and the part where he refers to his use as a ‘prison’ strike me as pretty “easy” characterizations to make of drug use in this modern era (they would have been more profound ideas forty years ago), although I don’t doubt their lasting relevance in lots of cases.

    But nonetheless, I’m really excited they’ve released this as a single. I’ll be shocked if it even breaks the Top 40 at radio, but if they market it right (definitely needs a video), I think it could still draw a lot of new fans to Johnson. It’s awesome to have a major label (go Mercury!) and artist in the 2000’s daring to not compromise their single releases, and I hope they get rewarded for it. With a heck of a lot of luck, I could see this release leading to a resurgence of both traditional(ish) country and edgy subjects in the mainstream. I don’t think this single is an absolute masterpiece, but I do think it’s the kind of thing that is remembered long after so much “friendlier” material has faded away. Good stuff.

  3. I’ll add that I hope I can still get Osborn for Philosophy – didn’t look like she was teaching it this semester, I hope she’s still here!

  4. I have a feeling this song has a great chance of changing country music .The sound is what will carry the song . People are searching for something new and Jamey johnson is new and different . The fact is he is a sound all to his own that makes him one of a kind.

  5. I agree with Steve from Boston — I felt like how I felt when I heard Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down” many years ago. Love this song — been a long time coming. ME

  6. this song is phenomenal! it describes the price you pay when you get into drugs. my sister is paying that price now. another sister that was an addict, loves the song and burned cd’s of it for her NA group. i think jamey johnson is the best thing out there. he tells it like it is–not all pretty. country radio is nuts if they don’t play this song!

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