Album Review – Addison Johnson’s “Dangerous Men”

photo: Daniel Shippey

Desperate times make dangerous men. And desperation is what many men feel these days. Traditional country singer and songwriter Addison Johnson isn’t the first to point out how certain people act when pushed to the brink. But he might be the first to illustrate the depth and contours of just what being “dangerous” means by crafting an entire album of songs that take the true or imagined stories of 11 desperate and dangerous men, and making country music out of them.

“Dangerous” can be a loaded term. It can mean you’re a cold-blooded killer like the character with a date with the gallows in the song “End of a Rope,” or it can mean you’re a killer corner blues musician singing for spare change and refusing to do anything but live life your own way in “The Busker.” Either way, these dangerous men are on the razor’s edge of life, which often brings either the best or worst out of them.

From Greensboro, North Carolina, Addison Johnson is an under-heralded Outlaw traditionalist who’s been seen hanging out and touring with the likes of other dangerous men like Ward Davis and Alex Williams—the latter of whom appears on this album on the duet “High Way.”

Addison Johnson isn’t exactly a humorous performer, but he does have a knack for mixing wit into many of his songs to help make a point. The opening song “Waitin’ on the World to End” may sound like it’s trying to make light of these tumultuous times, but for many, it’s deadly serious and true. It’s like the social fabric is a gnat’s eyelash away from unraveling and making dangerous men out of us all.

Most of all, Dangerous Men is just a good country music album. It better be good if you ask the audience to pay attention to a five-minute waltz. That’s exactly what Addison does on “Out of Control,” which got stuck in Saving Country Music’s Top 25 playlist when he originally released it in 2022, and here two years later it still sounds killer. The steel guitar on this album is excellent, and backstops great songs like “Damaged Goods.”

It’s true to say that some of the songs of Addison Johnson seem to approach songwriting more from method as opposed to pure inspiration. This results in some songs that sound somewhat like other songs you’ve heard before, or Johnson getting a little too cute at times. The dream sequence of “The Trip” feels like a trope. And during the latter half of the album, Addison goes to dark chords and movements once too often, allowing the songs to sort of blend together.

But Addison is also able to work through a variety of approaches to traditional country songs with authority in a way that makes the material enjoyable and accessible to an audience beyond hardcore traditional country fans. With humor, and even a little fun amid otherwise heavy subject matter, he makes for an album that everyone can find something to enjoy from. “End of a Rope” gives off a Western vibe. “Country Inn” has one of those choruses bound to get stuck in your head like William Clark Green’s “Ringling Road.”

The final song “Reason To Run” is where Addison Johnson really shows off his songwriting and honesty, just singing about his life and the simple approach he takes to it as a traveling musician. “I stick it to the man any weekday I go fishing,” Johnson sings. That right there is a pretty dangerous philosophy all in itself.

There is a dangerous man inside of all of us, just as there is a loving and compassionate one. How that danger manifests itself depends on who we are, and where it comes out. Sometimes it emotes as a man protecting or providing for his family. Sometimes it comes out in refusing to conform to anyone’s standards. Either way, it’s an elemental part of being human, and the character study Addison Johnson implements on Dangerous Men makes for an interesting and entertaining listen.

1 3/4 Guns Up

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