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Johnson, Mike & the Moonpies show traditional country is alive and well

The Belasco, Los Angeles, April 18, 2018

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Cody Johnson is not your typical mainstream country artist. He self-releases his albums, and instead of putting out rock and pop songs (disguised to look country), he records real, diehard Texas country music. And it was heartening to see and hear his loyal Los Angeles fanbase sing along with nearly ever song. His show tonight transformed this former church into a lively Southwestern dancehall.

Although The Belasco is a small 1,500-person capacity room, it's clear Johnson is aiming for bigger things. He entered from atop a riser, flanked by a drummer on his left and bassist on the right. He's also an active performer. Though not as hyperactive as Garth Brooks in his prime, Johnson's onstage moves were oftentimes Brooks-esque. In addition to his rhythm section, Johnson's band also included a lead guitarist and fiddler. Johnson accompanied himself on acoustic guitar.

Johnson songs are sincere and straightforward. The hopeful "Ride with Me" expressed the beauty and innocence of rural romance. Instead of attempting to prove his Southern credibility, Johnson's song gets straight to the point of expressing heartfelt love. Many contemporary country songs seem to frontload a whole lot of obvious Southern imagery to take one's mind off the fact that the recording doesn't sound country at all. No such deception necessary with Johnson songs, though; his songs are sound just as country as they read. Many of these songs are also deceptively smart. "Dance Her Home" includes the line, "The smoke is thick, and the lights are dim," slyly referencing the honky tonk standard, "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke."

Mike & The Moonpies opened with an engaging set of original music. Whereas everybody in Johnson's band (except for Johnson himself) wore ball caps, M&M all wore cowboy hats. The band's music ranged from Western swing-y "Road Crew," to the gently autobiographical "Steak Night at the Prairie Rose." The band was warmly received by Johnson fans because they recognize the real deal when they hear it.

Only a few short days after the ACM Awards showcased much of what is wrong with contemporary country music, Cody Johnson and Mike & The Moonpies proved that traditional country music is still alive and well.