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Jamey Johnson at House of Blues, 4/3/2014

Jamey Johnson House of Blues April 3, 2014

Can you sing along to "The Yellow Rose of Texas"?

Don't be silly; of course you can. Right? But try it, and it's tougher than you think.

Jamey Johnson knows the words, as well as those "O Susannah," which is of similar vintage and perhaps even closer to the Alabama-born singer's heart. But Thursday's show at House of Blues, which spanned 25 songs over more than two hours, was no history lesson. It could have been louder at first and was a little slow to get going, but soon enough it became raw, potent and vital, a welcome reminder of just how restorative country music can be at times, even if the song happens to be Bob Seger's "Turn the Page."

By the time it was over, Johnson and his band had outlasted about half of the original crowd that had the downtown music hall mostly full and very much in a mood to commune. The singer told his audience about a half-hour into the show, "we're just going to drift along...if you have a request, keep it to yourself." Naturally that didn't prevent the fans, few of whom were without 16-ounce aluminum cans or plastic cups with plastic straws, from yelling out their choices anyway.

Of course House of Blues crowds are notorious for their inconsiderate behavior, but not this one. The show started with most of the predominantly male crowd yelling the lyrics of Johnson's "The High Cost of Living" right back to him (boy, they loved the "I traded it for cocaine and a whore" line), as they did on "That Lonesome Song" and really did on "In Color" some time later and on "Give It Away" much, much later. Quite a few people had left by then, but the ones who stayed sang with the conviction of people who had been in front of a judge a time or two.

It was a honky-tonk show all right, with an audience so ready to blow off steam you could almost see the pressure gauges in their eyes. There was plenty of talking and an audible buzz in the room all night, but not even in a disrespectful way. Johnson and the boys made it fairly obvious they were going to keep playing whether the crowd was paying attention or not, but it was a moot point because most of the music was so compelling. It was fascinating how the crowd noise sometimes get submerged by the music -- the harmonica solo during Merle Haggard's "Misery and Gin" stands out -- or would turn into singing along on a dime, almost like the tide going out. Really something.

Review continues on the next page.

So the good ole boy groove twisted and turned through several bends in the river: a deep-fried Muddy Waters-style double shot of country blues on Johnny Paycheck's "11 Months and 99 Days" and Willie Nelson's "Night Life"; Johnson's own honky-tonk jewels like "By the Seat of Your Pants" and "The Guitar Song"; two other Merle Haggard tunes; Waylon; a couple of songs I had to look up later (Roger Miller's "River In the Rain"); and a few that just weren't fair, like Alabama's "Dixieland Delight" George Strait's "The Chair" and a mash-up of the Georgia Satellites' "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" and "White Lightnin'." No conversation could compete with the likes of that.

But although it came about only 75 percent into the show (and was succeeded by a classic chooglin' take on Don Williams' "Tulsa Time"), the high point Thursday had to have been "Turn the Page." The floor was smeared with spilled beer and littered with empty cans, and the crowd clumped together into small groups propping each up, whether in solidarity with Seger's long and lonesome highway ahead or just because they had become a little stumbly by then. Johnson and his band obliged by doing exactly what they were supposed to -- flip all the frustration and futility that seethe in the lyrics into a damn good reason to howl at the moon. Moments like that speak for themselves.

Personal Bias: Dig it.

The Crowd: May have wanted to sleep in this morning.

Overheard In the Crowd: "What's up big dog?!"

Random Notebook Dump: As sung by Ernest Tubb, 1955:

There's a yellow rose in Texas that I'm gonna see Nobody else could miss her, not half as much as me She cried so when I left her, it'd like to broke my heart And if I'd ever find her, we never more will part

She's the sweetest little rosebud that Texas ever knew Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew Gimme talk about your Clementine and sing of Rosalie But the Yellow Rose of Texas is the only girl for me

Where the Rio Grande is flowing and the skies are bright She walks along the river in the quiet summer night I know that she remembers when we parted long ago I promised that I'll return and not to leave her so

She's the sweetest little rosebud that Texas ever knew Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew Gimme talk about your Clementine and sing of Rosalie But the Yellow Rose of Texas is the only girl for me


High Cost of Living Place Out On the Ocean That Lonesome Song O Susannah The Yellow Rose of Texas Misery and Gin He's Got You Can't Cash My Checks 11 Months and 29 Days Night Life Too Gone Too Long Dixieland Delight In Color By the Seat of Your Pants The Chair Keep Your Hands to Yourself/White Lightnin' River In the Rain Heaven Was a Drink of Wine The Guitar Song That's the Way Love Goes Tulsa Time Macon Freedom to Stay Give It Away Mowin' Down the Roses


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