REVIEW: Cody Johnson – ‘Gotta Be Me’

13892054_10153955434301443_5505133801049568758_nNever judge a book by its cover. It’s a statement that’s stood the test of time. However when approaching the new album from Cody Johnson, it might be best if it’s ignored.

The cover in this case is the sleeve to Johnson’s 5th studio album ‘Gotta Be Me’. Johnson looks and sounds like your typical traditional country artist, a real cowboy. He used to be one or as near as damn it. He worked in a former life as a rodeo rider as well as a prison officer. His quote is worth repeating. “In my family you either worked for the prison or you were locked up in the prison”.

He now makes country music and has been making music for the best part of 10 years. It’s probably not worth emphasising that his brand of country music is very much geared towards the top of the authentic scale.

You won’t hear too much of it on radio. If you want to hear Cody Johnson’s brand of country music you have to make an effort. Lots do. Half a million have bought concert tickets. 80 million have streamed Johnson’s tracks. He has sold 60,000 albums and 400,000 singles. He has a devoted and loyal following and they will embrace this album.

There is an abundance of steel guitar, fiddle and harmonica. He sings with the twang that you would expect from a Huntsville native. Straight up country that works just fine in Texas but won’t automatically gain a slot on America’s Country Countdown.

The album is largely autobiographical. 9 of the 14 tracks were co-written by Johnson but he has attracted the interest of Nashville’s songwriters. Brothers Osborne wrote ‘Grass Stains’ and ‘Chain Drinkin’.

‘Gotta Be Me’ opens the album. The first 19 seconds of harmonica-infused instrumentation leaves the listener in no doubt of what he is buying into. “The cowboy in me couldn’t change if I wanted it to”.

The theme continues with ‘The Only One I Know (Cowboy Life)’ that draws upon his life on the rodeo circuit and the broken bones that he collected as mementos.

His last album 2014’s ‘Cowboy Like Me’ reached #7 on the Billboard Country Album Chart and we have seen that the traditional guys are staging a fight back. Jon Pardi and Aaron Watson are not about to give up their integrity but seem to be doing just fine.

Johnson has released ‘With You I Am’ as the lead single from the album. A straight up ballad that should be given a chance on country radio but probably won’t.

He remains for now an independent country artist but if the numbers continue to stack up, we guess that the labels won’t take too long before they come knocking on his door.

There are some that are suggesting that Johnson may be next Texas country music star. That might be a little optimistic but this album will confirm what many already know. If you want authenticity in your counrty music from an artist who has the scars to support his stories, Cody Johnson is your man.