Johnson fits nicely in country
If there was one thing and one thing only that was clear at the Paradise on Wednesday, it's that Jamey Johnson wants to save country music. That was evident from a passel of covers like George Jones's "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes" and George Strait's "Give It Away," as well as a handful of originals, that insisted quite forcefully that country needs to be saved. And Johnson provided a few signs that he's the man for the job.
One was his voice. Johnson's nasal baritone was unpretty and matter-of-fact, which happened to be its biggest strengths. He sings like someone who's been through a fair amount of hell and now looks at the world coldly and soberly. That gave added weight to the cautionary tale of "High Cost of Living" and made him seem clear-eyed and unsentimental even with the heavy sentimentality of the no-place-like-home wistfulness of "Stars in Alabama" and regretful, self-flagellating "Angel."
His stoicism extended to his stage presence as well. Most of the time, Johnson barely moved, typically only turning his head a bit, strumming his acoustic guitar and scarcely budging his expression from a coiled but unaggressive glower. (He cracked fleeting, teeny-tiny smiles at the audience for singing a verse of "In Color.") But that purposefulness was compelling to witness.
Where he came up short was in his own productivity as a songwriter. Johnson has only two albums under his belt, and he touched on just one of them, last year's "That Lonesome Song" (played in full and mostly in sequence).
The rest was given over to songs by the likes of Willie, Merle, and Hank Jr. But it gave him the opportunity to loosen up a bit; he worked himself into as much of a froth as he ever got on "Take This Job and Shove It."
Maybe Johnson doesn't need "loose," though. The richest moments of the night came from "High Cost of Living," "In Color," and the swaying lament "Nothing Is Better Than You," whose choruses didn't lift the songs so much as open them up and deepen them. Those songs Johnson wrote.
Opener Jerrod Niemann's jokey chattiness offered a sharp contrast with Johnson, spreading genial good-time vibes mostly through solo-acoustic covers of songs by Johnny Cash, Jimmy Buffett, Sublime, and others.