After an outstanding, independently-recorded effort that ushered him in as country music’s Outlaw Savior (garnering an unprecedented level of critical acclaim from essentially every corner of the music universe), Jamey Johnson returns with “My Way To You,” the first single from his upcoming fourth album.
He does not disappoint. The song opens to the sound of an eerie steel guitar, joined in short order by a plucked acoustic as the steel swells, so full of emotion it must spill over into the foreground. Then Johnson’s voice enters, a hushed and contemplative baritone perfectly underlined by a sparse and haunting piano.
By the time this powerful track reaches its climax, Johnson (having started the song with little more than a whisper) is soaring, his emotional connection to these words unmistakable and his outpouring of passion irresistible.
But dark desires, “high” times and living “fast as hell” are nothing new to seasoned country music listeners. In fact, there’s nothing at all new about the images in this song, nor is there anything particularly unique about its story, a tale of redemption realized. To be sure, all of these images and themes are especially expected coming from the mouth of a singer known for having suffered so seriously from personal misdirection.
So why then is “My Way To You” still so damn compelling? And how can something so otherwise rudimentary be so refreshing?
It’s because there’s nothing rehearsed about any of this. There is no pretense. These words do not come from the hands of someone who harbored hopes of writing a song that would serve as a touchstone for troubled souls—no, this comes from a troubled soul, from perhaps one of the only singers in the world today who, when he speaks this message—his message—absolutely deserves our attention and reverence.
He has it.
It’s because in the hands of almost any other singer, a lyrical statement as simple as “I was trying to find my way to you” would ring hollow and trite, the musings, perhaps, of a lovestruck boy in the midst of what he envisions as his great romance. But this is not about the scars suffered from past broken hearts or about deeds done in desperation when luck runs out.
This is epic. This is a song about a man who was the lowest a man could be and still, somehow, by some grace, has found his way into the arms of an angel.
Or into the arms of angels. Johnson sings this with such commitment and such conviction that it’s fair to wonder just who this “you” is. When he sings about never really being lost, about looking for the right signs, how could we not think maybe he’s singing about something heavenly?
“You” is never defined. But this is such a spiritual performance that if it is directed at a lover, what a big, powerful and forgiving love hers must be.
There are a lot of people—critics, artists and fans alike—who will try to tell you that country music has many faces and wears many hats. But don’t let anyone fool you; true though that sentiment may be, this is real country music–real, and bathed in all the honestly and emotional rawness it can muster. This is where God meets the Devil. This is denial, repentance and forgiveness. This is a love so strong that it can conquer anything. This is salvation.
It’s because Jamey Johnson elevates everything about this to a level that is all his own. Good? Bad? Strong? Weak? Those terms don’t even make sense here, not in the context of something that he breathes every bit of himself into, not in the context of something so simple his truths sting and bite as if they were our own.
Jamey Johnson is the future of country music. And for a guy known for his darkness, he is a brilliant star in an otherwise dreary night sky.