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Jamey Johnson Alabama-based singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson is nothing if not dynamic. Lyrically, he ranges from doom-haunted tales of poverty and pain—“High Cost of Living,” on 2008’s That Lonesome Song, tells graphic tales of drug abuse—to idyllic evocations of an idealized heartland existence like “Front Porch Swing Afternoon,” from 2010’s The Guitar Song. His last two albums, recorded with his road band rather than studio pros, have a loose feel that he emphasizes by letting the Recommended: musicians sometimes jam past the sixThat Lonesome or seven-minute mark. Studio chatter Song, The Guitar Song and amplifier hum blend the songs into suites, recalling the album-as-experience vibe established by ’70s rockers like Pink Floyd. The Guitar Song, Johnson’s most recent release, is a two-CD set wrapped in a cover that, with its black-and-white profile shot of Johnson emphasizing his long hair and chest-length beard, looks like it should be adorning a Neurosis album. But while half the songs are driven by acoustic guitar, slow-burners fueled by a seething underclass rage (“Poor Man Blues,” “Can’t Cash My Checks,” “Mental Revenge”), the other half is an upbeat collection of Nashville boilerplate (“Thankful for the Rain,” “Dog in the Yard,” “Macon”). Graphically illustrating this dichotomy, the album is split into “black” and “white” discs, but don’t be fooled by his ominous album art and dour demeanor. Johnson’s hung onto his sense of humor.

Hank Williams III Shelton Hank Williams, the grandson of country pioneer Hank Williams, straddles the rock-country divide like no one else. He’s released five albums on MCA’s country label Curb, culminating in this year’s Rebel Within, but that relationship has always been contentious. Many of his songs lash out at the Nashville establishment in no uncertain terms. He’s also been a friend and collaborator of former Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo for years, and he’s also the leader of Assjack, a punk-metal band that sounded like a redneck Ministry on their Recommended: self-titled 2009 record (on which Williams Lovesick, Broke played all the instruments). & Driftin’, Rebel Within His first two albums, 1999’s Risin’ Outlaw and 2002’s Lovesick, Broke and Driftin’, were hardcore honky-tonk records, but Williams’ hostility to the mainstream country scene was palpable from day one. (Risin’ Outlaw included the unsubtly titled “Trashville.”) In between, he fought with Curb over their refusal to release This Ain’t Country, a collection of cow-punk/hardcore songs that’s easily downloaded and worth the Google search. A contract dispute kept the more aggressive Straight to Hell on the shelf until 2006, but he’s kept up a frantic pace since. Damn Right, Rebel Proud came out in 2008, mixing extreme metal vocals with the country tunes, and Rebel Within maintains that pattern. On the title track, Williams’ reedy voice is offset by hoarse screams, but the arrangements are dominated by fiddle and steel guitar. Live, he tends to play two or even three sets: one of pure country, one of psychobilly-ish punk and sometimes an ultra-aggressive hardcore set. COWBELL


Dimple Records' In-Store Magazine, December 2010  
Dimple Records' In-Store Magazine, December 2010  

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