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CD Review: Jamey Johnson 

The Guitar Song (Mercury)

Jamey Johnson's The Guitar Song is the most conventional and unconventional country album you'll hear this year. Its main theme is a country-music favorite: redemption. But this two-CD concept album about a self-destructive musician who eventually sees the light is an ambitious song cycle that travels new paths to get to an ages-old subject. With his beefy build and hobo beard, the 35-year-old Alabama native looks like the most badass guy in the room. And he often sings with a twangy swagger that's equal parts sentimental and menacing. He's a Skynyrd fan with a serious jones for the Hank Williams songbook, and both sides fight it out for space here. The album divides its two discs into "Black" and "White" parts; the 25 songs start dark — the opening cut is called "Lonely at the Top" — and work their way toward deliverance. "Taking depression pills in the Hollywood hills," sings the record's protagonist in "Playing the Part," shortly before he bottoms out. By the time he swings through "Macon" and makes his way to "Front Porch Swing Afternoon," Johnson (or The Guitar Song's country star — it's not clear if they're the same person) deserves a little peace. But that doesn't mean he won't do some hell-raising on Saturday night from time to time. — Michael Gallucci

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