Jamey Johnson: Live Last Night

(By Richard A. Lipski)

Live Last Night

With his mountain man beard and Charlie Manson stare, country singer Jamey Johnson looks like the kind of guy who is mandated by law to stay at least 100 yards away from Carrie Underwood. Come to think of it, Johnson's music maintains an equivalent metaphorical distance from the slick pop sounds of Underwood and her ilk.

Yes, the Alabama native is responsible for penning "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk," one of the worst songs in recent memory, but he's more than made up for it with album "That Lonesome Song," a collection of straight-up, tear-in-beer country music that's recently gone gold.

Though his star is on the rise - in addition to his major label deal, gold record and ACM Award, he's recently opened for Willie Nelson and performed with Keith Urban - Johnson and his band seemed at home in front of the comparatively small crowd standing in the Birchmere's bandstand. Apparently not a big talker, Johnson immediately ripped into his newest single, "High Cost of Living." Barely taking a breath or a drink between songs, Johnson sang his lungs out for the next two hours. He chose only the best material from his two studio albums, alternating original tales of woe with covers of everyone from Lefty Frizzell ("That's the Way Love Goes") to Merle Haggard ("Are the Good Times Really Over").

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

The attention Jamey Johnson gave to his classic country influences makes him equal parts performer and preservationist, a singer who can maintain tradition without being stale. His two best known songs, "In Color" and "Give It Away (a # 1 for George Strait) garnered the most vocal audience reaction, but it was surprising to see such positive feedback from the college-age portion of the audience towards songs such as "Between Jennings and Jones" or "Who's Gonna Fill their Shoes?" Maybe good country music isn't dead after all.

Opening for Johnson was longtime pal Jerrod Niemann, a young-Haggard soundalike in a Ramones t-shirt who started his thirty minute set with the lyrics "My grandpa got his teeth knocked out." Turns out this alleged line was merely a joke, but it set the stage for the rest of his act. Niemann's claim to fame is co-writing the Chris Ledoux tribute "Good Ride Cowboy," with Garth Brooks. Though Neimann is a talented songwriter as several tracks on his new record "Judge Jerrod & The Hung Jury" can confirm, on Thursday he was a fratboy jukebox, covering David Allan Coe, Bob Marley, and Sublime one after another in between literally singing the praises of Keystone Light. Come on now; if the crowd wanted reggae and songs about lousy beer, they'd be at a Kenny Chesney show.

Jerrod Niemann came back out to join Johnson during the main event, and with the exception of a sophomoric toast, remained thankfully in the background. Jamey Johnson's band, which remained in fine form throughout the set, unleashed a sternum rattling version of Coe's "The Ride" to end the evening. A song about a ghostly encounter with country music's patron saint Hank Williams, it was a fitting end to a night that was all about tradition.

--JULI THANKI

By David Malitz |  May 15, 2009; 1:25 PM ET Live Last Night
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