Country Music needs to “evolve.” At least that’s what are constantly being told. Thankfully, there are still artists out there who still pray to the alter of Cash, Jennings and Owens, and not that of Timberlake and Mars.
The new album by Cody Johnson, Gotta Be Me, is a laid-back jaunt into the depths of what modern country could be if it weren’t for auto-tune, drop beats and overdubs.
On Johnson’s latest album you can hear a voice as smooth as Tim McGraw’s, specifically on tracks like “I Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere Baby” and “With You I Am.” While Johnson has the potential to become popular with the average mainstream listener, he still holds true to the roots of country and western music.
Sonically, Gotta Be Me sets a fine example of what country radio “evolution” could be if Music Row paid attention to what many believe is true country and not merely pandering to popular trends to reach a younger demographic.
That’s not to say this album isn’t influenced by modern radio trends, though. “Grass Stains,” for example, follows the almost overdone theme of takin’ a girl in your pick-up truck out to the fields and having a good time. Yet, it’s forgivable as it fearlessly escapes lyrical clichés while possessing old school country instrumentation. “Chain Drinkin’” is a fiddle-laced honkey-tonker with a country swing that extolls the virtues of a good ol’ night imbibing in some drinks. Both songs deal with common themes found currently on country radio, but Johnson proves that it can be done in a respectful way to the genre.
The title track is a laid-back, slack country tune with an unapologetic tale about accepting the protagonist’s perceived faults for what they are (granted, I’d never fault someone for drinking too much). Meanwhile, “Every Scar Has A Story” is a reflective song about looking back at a past relationship that didn’t exactly end on the right note.
“Wild As You” kicks off with a fiddle whine that will make any true country fan swoon and make new country fans melt if they can get over the fact that the singer isn’t waving his arms in the air like he just don’t care. Johnson impresses with his powerful vocals and rock-solid songwriting.
“Billy’s Brother” is a country stomper where “One Bud Light leads to another and if you’re gonna fight Billy, you’ll fight his brother.” It’s a rough and tumble country ride where Johnson’s voice punctuates each note with purpose.
While Music Row seems to be moving away from its traditions, artists like Cody Johnson are flying the flag of true country and western music to the delight of old-school country fans who are looking for both style and substance in the music they listen to. The songs on Gotta Be Me are well-crafted and performed in a way that begs to be heard by anyone who calls themselves country. There’s not a clunker on the entire album making Gotta Be Me one of the finest albums of 2016.