Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jamey Johnson, "Playing the Part"

At a very early point in his career, Jamey Johnson has already been hailed as the savior of traditional country music.  On the surface, his music surely sounds more country than the usual country-pop and country-rock populating country radio.  But the critical point in making such a determination is whether the songs themselves are strong enough to stand the test of time, and whether the artist's performance can elevate them to their full potential.

The theme of "Playing the Part" (Country boy meets the city) is not new, and Jamey's take fails to breathe new life into the familiar concept.  A country boy has traveled to L.A. to chase his dream of becoming a Hollywood star.  But at some point, he becomes dissatisfied with his new life, and is consumed with feelings of self-blame.  We are left to wonder why.  What went wrong?  The story fails hold our interest for the sad lack of detail and construction.

Jamey's producers dress up the stale lyrics with upbeat production that sounds reminiscent of Mary Chapin Carpenter's classic earworm "Shut Up and Kiss Me."  The arrangement is built on a traditional country base with moderate rock influence.  The problem is that the steady, bouncy rhythm is awkwardly juxtaposed against an unsuitably lethargic vocal performance on Jamey's part.  Such a low-key delivery worked well on his slower-tempoed hit "In Color," but it sounds sleepy and uninterested on an upbeat track such as this.  By the time it is over, the weightless track scarcely leaves any impression on the memory.

Believe me - I enjoy country music that comes in pure and unadulterated form, which means that Jamey Johnson is the kind of artist that I would normally flip for.  While his potential is undeniable, such material does not measure up to it, and whether Jamey truly is the next Waylon Jennings remains to be seen.  He may one day prove to be the savior of traditional country, but this song will not be the one to get him there.  One can only hope that his future efforts will eventually produce the truly great country music that we know to be within his capability.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

To hear this song, click "Cool New Music."