Baby New Year all swaddled and cooing dropped a welcomed gift for traditional country fans on New Years Day while many people were busy boiling up New Year feasts and fixated on college football. Jamey Johnson, mere months removed from launching his own record label called Big Gassed Records, and on the heels of releasing a Christmas EP, offered a free song to his fans called “Alabama Pines” available through the Big Gassed Records website in exchange for your email information. The song is custom written for listening at the turn of the calendar, and the turning of pages in one’s life just as Jamey finds himself amidst as a newly-proclaimed independent artist.I like bringing in a New Years Eve, sitting on a front porch swing, washing down the black eyed peas with beer. Back when playing all our favorite songs, back when chasing girls and leaving home was all we ever wanted, now it’s clear. That I pined… Of moving out to Nashville, just to find that I still be living with the Alabama Pines.
The first non-Christmas original song we’ve heard from Jamey since the release of his double album The Guitar Song in 2010, “Alabama Pines” begins with the tingle-inducing tone of a single acoustic guitar plucking in a style indicative of classic Willie Nelson, ambling languidly into a slow dance song where the simple drums and steel guitar don’t kick in until after the first minute, and the mood is one of reflection and restfulness. By humming the third stanza, Jamey adds an additional warmth to the composition, leading into a shortened, final chorus that leaves the listener with an emotional weight.
“From now on, as soon as I can get it written and recorded, we will make it available,” Johnson said about his new label when it was first announced, and were seeing those results with “Alabama Pines.” “I’m excited about the new label because it gives me freedom and control of my own releases and music. It lets me release my music to my fans when I’m ready. I will be able to put out a new song without it having to be on an album. I’m a songwriter. Sometimes I write songs that fit records, sometimes I write songs that fit other people’s records and sometimes I write songs that don’t fit anywhere.”
Though this method of releasing music may seem enticing to Jamey’s fans, how financially lucrative it will be for Big Gassed Records remains to be seen. By releasing the song on New Years and not really alerting anyone beyond Johnson’s social feeds, the song really hasn’t received much media acknowledgement or made its way to radio, despite being Jamey’s first real new song in nearly five years. And then there’s the question if it should even be considered a single, or just a promotional track as a “thank you” to fans.
It may give mention to New Years and was released on January 1st, but “Alabama Pines” is a song for all year, and includes a quality and depth indicative of when Jamey’s music defined the pinnacle for popular country’s critical and classic country quota.
Along with the song, Jamey Johnson also posted a handwritten letter explaining the inspiration for the tune.
It was January 1, 2000, and I had just moved to Nashville. Two pickup trucks of old second hand furniture, 2 Japanese Akitas I had recently busted out of the Montgomery humane shelter, and my best friend Luke Garner and I were loading into my new place – a duplex in the Hermitage. My New Years resolution was already fulfilled. Everything that had happened after that was bonus. “Alabama Pines” is my love letter to the time and place from whence I came.
Though the pace of “Alabama Pines” won’t jump-start the heart, and may lend to some complaining about the tediousness of some of Jamey’s tracks, the song is timely and resonant, and more than anything, shows that Jamey Johnson still has the licks that made him a decorated and beloved songwriter and performer before going on his half-decade hiatus from original recorded music.
This is country music the way it has always sounded, and the way it should sound.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.
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