Given that many of today’s biggest country’s stars are more concerned with wardrobe and make-up than music, it’s refreshing to see a guy like singer-guitarist Jamey Johnson. As he strolled onto the stage last night at House of Blues to begin a two-hour set, he looked more like a roadie than a rock star. His beard and long hair made him look a bit like Grizzly Adams and his deep, gravelly voice only confirmed the comparison.
Early in the set, which featured close to 30 songs, Johnson acknowledged his influences as he played “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” George Jones’s song about all the great country singers (i.e. Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson) and whether anyone will have the “heart and soul” to live up to their standards. Johnson paused to reflect on Jones’s passing and then played “Four Walls Around Me” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” as a sort of tribute to the icon. That made for a rather somber start to the show, but Johnson and his stellar seven-piece band slowly gained traction throughout the concert and showed just why Johnson’s music has achieved such critical acclaim since launching his career eight years ago.
Tracks such as “High Cost of Living” and “In Color,” the latter of which featured backing vocals from Johnson's young daughter, became working class anthems in his hands and had the crowd cheering and singing along in unison. His cover of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” benefited from lap steel guitar and was another crowd favorite. While Johnson relied a little heavily on covers (he played songs from a range of artists, including The Georgia Satellites, George Strait and Don Williams), that wasn’t a detriment as his band capably moved from one genre to the next. His two drummers even swapped kits throughout the night, showing just dexterous they could be. Johnson didn’t speak much to the audience — “he’s a man of few words, ain’t he,” said one patron — but he didn’t need to. His music was a statement in itself — old school outlaw country ain’t dead yet.