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The two sides of Jamey Johnson

Royale, Boston, December 19, 2012

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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With a string of great albums such as "Living for a Song: Tribute to Hank Cochran," "The Guitar Song" and "That Lonesome Song," Jamey Johnson ought to have had a great concert lined up. His songs are gritty, cut to the bone and are well put together with a growl of a voice coming out of the long-haired (now slightly graying) burly looking mountain of a man.

But that was only partially the case.

Johnson started off strongly with "The High Cost of Living, " with great lines such as "I tell you the high cost of livin' Ain't nothing like the cost of livin' high" with references to faith and hookers thrown in. Here, like many of his other songs throughout the hefty, nearly 130-minute show, Johnson started off on acoustic guitar, often without accompaniment of his band. The song would build from there and eventually hit its stride.

But the problem was that there was little in the sense of alternative pacing for a long, long stretch of the show. Yup, Johnson was going to start off on acoustic, let the band enter (often relying on pedal steel and lead guitar) and not say a word to the crowd (okay, he did say about three sentences all night). Repeat for next song.

The problem was that the M.O. started getting on the tedious side. There just was not that much excitement to the proceedings after awhile. Johnson apparently plays without a set list and just gets going with whatever comes into his head, but one suspects that using one could help alleviate this going forward.

One of the beauties of Johnson's show, however, was the covers he threw into the mix, and he most definitely did do a good chunk of covers. He went from his own Can't Cash My Checks to Oh, Susanna and later The Christmas Song (aka Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire was part of the repertoire along with Hank Cochran's He's Got You.

It was this last third of the show that caught fire, however with these songs, his take on Vern Gosdin's Set 'Em Up Joe, Merle Haggard's That's the Way Love Goes, his biggest hit In Color and probably his biggest smash as a songwriter Just Give it Away, recorded by George Strait.

The tempo varied, the band was working them, Johnson's singing was spot on, and you got the sense that this show was going some place. It just took a long time to get there.

Johnson bookended the show with Saw the Light. Smart choice (and a good cover), considering that music has always enjoyed the Saturday night/Sunday morning conundrum. Much like his show in fact.