But I had high hopes coming into his latest album, Gotta Be Me.
“Grass Stains” is the second song and is another fun song. It’s a song that’s essentially about “a roll in the hay” where Johnson suggests that they get some grass stains on a girl’s pretty sundress. It’s once again very fiddle and steel guitar driven, however, lyrically, there’s nothing particularly stand-out about the song. It’s enjoyable, but far from the best this album has to offer.
It’s with track three where the album begins to turn itself into something a bit more special with its first single “With You I Am.” This is a great ballad where Johnson sings about how he feels he’s never been much feels special and unique in the arms of the woman who loves him. “I used to poke fun at them punch-drunk lovers, never thought I’d be that man, but with you I am.” It’s not a wholly original concept for a song, but it’s been a while since it’s been done this well.
On “Half a Song,” the narrator sings about how it’s amazing how much can happen during the time frame of half of a song. It’s a cool song with a great country-dance beat.
“The Only One I Know (Cowboy Life)” is, to my mind, the best song on the album and up there with one of my favorite songs of the year so far. It’s a song about the life of a loner who spends his life on the road as a rodeo cowboy. Rodeo songs have become less almost non-existent in recent years, but this is a song that would do George Strait and Garth Brooks proud. “I ride and I fall, one day I might win ‘em all, it’s just broken hearts and broken bones and a helluva whole lot of bein’ alone, but I ride and I roam, where I hang my hat is home, this cowboy life might kill me but it’s the only one I know.”
“Walk Away” is a co-write with Randy Rogers and almost feels like a male version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” where a man asks the other man whom his lover is cheating with to walk away. It’s sung from a unique perspective and feels genuine. “There’s nothing you can say or do to me to prove to me she’s not worth a second chance” Johnson sings in the second verse.
“Kiss Goodbye” shows that spoken word can be properly used in a country song. It doesn’t overtake the whole song, but instead, kicks off each verse while leading into singing. In the song, Johnson sings about the pain of leaving the woman he loves because he has things he has to do. What these things are are never specified and he admits that they aren’t more important than her but that there are just some things that have to be done.
“Chain Drinkin’” moves back to Johnson having some fun doing some chain drinking. It’s not a particularly special song, but I imagine it’s a lot of fun to hear live to really get his fans into the show and it’s easy to enjoy the song.
“Wild As You” compares the narrator’s lover to the wild things in nature. It feels like a bit of a list song, and it’s been done many times before, but Johnson’s delivery keeps the song enjoyable.
“I Know My Way Back (Clara’s Song)” is a song which I can only assume is written for his daughter given that it is published under “Clara’s Daddy’s Publishing” and he is the sole writer on the song. In the song, Johnson sings about how “she don’t mind me leaving her behind me because she knows I know my way back.”
“Billy’s Brother” returns to another country-rocker and plays on the line that “if you’re gone fight Billy you’re gonna have to fight his brother.” Like “Chain Drinkin’” There’s not much substance to the song, but there’s plenty of substance on the rest of the album to go around. I enjoy a couple of songs on an album that are worth rolling the windows down and turning the speakers up.
“Every Scar Has a Story” is another great song and is my second favorite song on the album after “The Only One I Know.” “Every scar has a story – just ask my heart.” It’s a song about the pain of the narrator losing someone he loves. It’s a beautifully done song and works great with the rest of the album.
“I Ain’t Going Nowhere Baby” is a song where the narrator sings that no matter what, he’s not going anywhere – he’s in the relationship for the long haul and the relationship just continues to grow stronger.
The album ends with a spiritual song, “I Can’t Even Walk (Without You Holding My Hand).” It provides a strong finish to a very strong album.
Now, I normally don’t comment on what’s not on an album (kind of a difficult thing to do), however, one disappointment I had was that a song I heard Johnson perform in the past year (I believe called “This Lonely Bed”) is not on the album – I’d love to hear a studio version of that song.
The album is heavy on fiddle and steel guitar throughout and Johnson’s strong voice and delivery makes even the average songs on the album more than enjoyable. I’m highly impressed with the album and definitely recommend giving it a listen.