However, Johnson also knows he’s living on a different social tier from many other less fortunate folks, which he hilariously illustrates through “Lonely at the Top”. The song’s lyric looks in on a country music star pouring out his problems -and pouring in the booze – in order to survive all the supposed trials and tribulations of being a big music celebrity. His barstool listener, whom we assume is just an Average Joe, responds to this unnecessary complaining by stating how he’s working up quite a thirst just listening to the spoiled brat whine. It may be lonely at the top, he agrees with the star, but “it’s a bitch at the bottom.” Johnson further addresses the chasm between the rich and the poor during “Poor Man Blues”. But a stiff drink won’t make the poor guy in this song feel any better; instead, he plots revenge on the insensitive jerk with the big bank account.
Johnson also includes some love songs on this set, as only he can sing ‘em. “Heartache” portrays romantic pain as though it were a relentless hunter that you never see coming. It’s almost as if heartache is the devil himself; just waiting for you to mess up so he can swoop in for the kill. The song’s instrumentation has a rambling, Southern rock feel, filled with a whole lot of electric guitar and organ. And much like many of the other tracks in this collection, “Heartache” ends with an instrumental jam. It’s as if the players were having way too much fun to quit during a large part of these recording sessions.
There are a few cover songs on this CD, as well. And they are relatively obvious choices — for Johnson, at least. “For The Good Times” was written by Kris Kristofferson, who is just as much of a straight shooter as Johnson, and “Mental Revenge”, a hit for his hero, Waylon Jennings, was penned by Mel Tillis. Johnson’s turn on vengeful “Mental Revenge” is nothing like the more lighthearted “Pray for You” by Jason and the Long Road. When the character in “Mental Revenge” wishes the worst on his ex, he means it. Revenge is sweet for this guy. A tribute to Vern Gosdin, “Set ‘Em Up Joe” also appears on the album.
The album’s title cut features Bill Anderson on vocals. It tells the story of pawn shop guitar, which is reliving some of its more exciting memories. Ah, if only some guitars could talk! Such a thought makes you wonder what Willie Nelson’s beat up old acoustic might say if it had a voice, doesn’t it? One imagines there are things it has seen, but can never tell.
At two full CDs long, The Guitar Song is not a full plate of music; it’s an overflowing one. The good news is it’s mainly comprised of killer, not filler. Jamey Johnson is like a guy you meet at a bar who has an endless supply of stories to tell. And no, none of these stories concern the hard life of a country music star. Instead, his stories carry with them deep philosophical undercurrents because Johnson is deceptively thoughtful.
Check out this video featuring Jamey Johnson discussing the album.