Cody Johnson’s Workmanlike ‘Ain’t Nothin’ to It’ Album Sets the Bar for 2019
Few next generation traditionalists carry the weight of the label as well as Cody Johnson on Ain't Nothin' to It, his major label debut. The man and his music are plenty big enough to fill a hat that needs filling.
Start at the end. "Dear Rodeo" closes the album proper before two live-to-tape bonus performances add an exclamation point. The ballad is a path to quickly understanding art and artist — on paper, it's a love letter to an ex named Rodeo that Johnson gave up on years ago after realizing he wasn't good enough to keep her. His sincerity opens the song for anyone to apply their own love and love lost story. As the steel guitar cries and Johnson starts to drive through the final chorus, you may feel the pull of nostalgia in your own way. It's a personal performance that's not saturated.
Johnson co-wrote just a handful of the songs on Ain't Nothin' to It, which is new for him, but it speaks to the workmanlike nature of this project. He's an old soul, but not old — you hear that across a steady, dynamic mix of country, more country and rock. At no point does the Sebastopol, Texas, cowboy cave to his ego and get caught up in the importance of a song or moment, but nothing is done casually.
Two well-known cover songs (Charlie Daniels' "Long Haired Country Boy" and Brooks & Dunn or Roger Miller's "Husbands and Wives") make it a vintage effort in several ways — who's old enough to remember when artists would freely cover their heroes on albums and release them at a steady clip? The every two or three-year album cycle perpetuates the idea of a finished album as a false idle instead of something that musicians do in the same way teachers teach, automakers make cars and carpenters build. It's hard to believe Johnson didn't begin thinking about what's next the day after he completed what's new.
"Monday Morning Merle" is a blue-collar portrait that offers much more than a brilliant song title. "Fenceposts" and his single, "On My Way to You," are outlaw love stories sure to resonate with any couple married beneath a veil of outside skepticism. Johnson doesn't come across as bitter, but you'll find a chip on his shoulder here and during "Doubt Me Now," a rocker that he concedes was inspired by a very specific hater he used to call friend.
Recorded before Johnson received an offer from Warner Music Nashville, Ain't Nothin' to It comes with no added flavors. Producer Trent Willmon helps fill out the sound so it's competitive with what's on the radio, but there's nothing canned. You're not likely to find a more consistent album in 2019.
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