That Lonesome Song by Jamey Johnson

In an age during which many country artists aim no higher than to make music that sounds pleasantly inoffensive between radio commercials, Jamey Johnson has done something strange and unexpected: He’s gone and made a masterpiece.

The care taken in the creation of That Lonesome Song shines through from top to bottom. The songwriting is dramatic, but not melodramatic; smart, but not condescending; and emotional, but not saccharine. For instance, the dramatic wallop of the first single, “In Color,” is all the more powerful for the restraint of its painterly narrative.

Jamey’s voice is a wrought-iron wonder that matches the ragged-but-right spirit of the album, while the sound is a hopped-up modern version of Waylon Jennings’ 1970s thump—apt, as Waylon is both covered (“The Door Is Always Open,” “Dreaming My Dreams With You”) and cleverly namechecked (the triumphant closer, “Between Jennings and Jones”). It’s still too early in 2008 to declare an Album of the Year, but consider That Lonesome Song a contender for the honor.

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