If there’s one thing you realize when you see Jamey Johnson live, it’s that he is not your ordinary mainstream country artist. In fact, he’s about as far from your typical Nashville Star as you can get.
Start with his appearance — he looks like he’s wandered in from the set of “Sons of Anarchy” — and his general onstage demeanor. Johnson apparently comes to sing and play, not to engage in banter, whether idle or calculated.
So, Wednesday night at Royale, he simply took the stage and began singing, and aside from a single brief comment, didn’t say a word until a “God bless you” at the end of the show, some two hours later.
Or, take the fact that he’s just released a record (“Living for a Song,” a tribute to songwriter Hank Cochran). You’d naturally expect an artist to promote his new release in his live performance. Johnson essentially ignored it, reprising only a single song (“Make the World Go Away”).
Or, take the usual Music City big show set-list, heavy on greatest hits and expected numbers, with a cover or two and, maybe, a few oddball turns. Not for Jamey Johnson; in concert, he walks the traditionalist walk and shows his roots. Wednesday, he devoted at least a third of his performance to that end, including a couple of Waylons and a couple of Haggards, a version of “Night Life” that really accented the blues, some vintage ’70s George Jones (“Still Doin’ Time”) and Hank Williams (“I Saw the Light,” one of the evening’s few uptempo songs), and a way-cool pairing that saw the old standard “Oh, Susanna” segue into Charlie Daniels’s “Long Haired Country Boy.”
All of this may sound like a complaint, but it isn’t (if there is a complaint to be made, it would concern the slow and unvarying tempo of the music, which caused things to drag at times, especially toward the show’s end). It is simply to note the striking difference between Johnson and the musical world of which he is ostensibly a part. His own music is as strikingly different, and because he performed for two hours, he had plenty of time to play a bunch of those songs, too, ranging through virtually all of “That Lonesome Song” and a good sampling of double album “The Guitar Song.”