Jamey Johnson’s outlaw persona may be exaggerated for effect (word is that he never actually pulled a shotgun on a radio programmer, demanding that his music be played, as rumored), but when it comes to his music, Johnson’s outlaw cred is well earned.
Johnson’s second single from That Lonesome Song is hardcore outlaw music that makes “In Color” sound like the national anthem of the United States of Pansy. A double-shot of unadulterated truth, “High Cost of Living” makes no apologies, cuts no corners and softens no image.
The story of the rise and fall of a pot-smoking, coke-using, whore-screwing rebel, “High Cost of Living” brilliantly illustrates how addiction can take hold of a person and thrust a life into a downward spiral that ends in the loss of everything of value–from a job to a home to a relationship– all culminating in the realization that “the high cost of livin’ ain’t nothing like the cost of livin’ high.”
Not exactly a cheery sentiment, but this ain’t your newfangled, everything-will-be-ok radio country. If “High Cost of Living” were a movie, Taylor Swift wouldn’t be able to get in without a parent.
If radio actually has guts enough to spin this track (which, frankly, is hard to imagine considering a number of stations refuse to play “Cheater Cheater” because the word “ho” is too controversial), hearing it alongside the fluff purveyed by the likes of Kellie Pickler and Rascal Flatts will illustrate just how talented Johnson is as a songwriter–and just how hollow the rest of the format is.
In fact, by the power vested in me and on the merits of this release I hereby absolve Jamey Johnson of his “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” sins. There’s not a single insubstantial word in “High Cost of Living,” a song so meaty that it rivals the best of its ilk—ever. This is not a good song, this is a great song—hands down, undeniably, case closed.
Johnson’s deep twang sounds fully at home here, his performance less grating than on “In Color,” which, though effective, seemed somehow out of character and found Johnson pushing vocally at times. In the midst of the song’s lush but well-spaced arrangement, Johnson’s voice comes alive with character, proving that unlike so many so-called outlaw singers, he’s a true original as opposed to the echo of a bygone era.
I just wish I could be there to see the face of the first soccer mom who hears “I traded that for cocaine and a whore” while she’s driving her kids around in a minivan, expecting to hear “Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful.”