Album Review – Addison Johnson’s “Dark Side of the Mountain”

Man, what a damn good little album this is, and kind of out of nowhere, which makes you appreciate it even more. Taking that wild-eyed Appalachian region mountain music hilljack vibe made popular by Tyler Childers, combining it with a little bit of murder and mayhem a la Hank3, and then giving it an unexpected twist by bringing in some of those early 90’s country sounds that hit the sweet spot of nostalgia at the moment, you have a record on your hands here that you’ll immediately fall for, and find difficult to get tired of.

Dark Side of the Mountain is just that: transmissions from the seedier side of life where the sun doesn’t shine—meaning the hollers where the moonshine is brewed, blood is spilled, and pills are consumed as folks who’ve struck out in life look for a way up and out. Greensboro, NC-native Addison Johnson tells you one harrowing tale after another, from stealing a car to run drugs to New Orleans, to crashing a wedding by shooting off the top of the wedding cake, to a country music hopeful being sunk to the bottom of the Cumberland River in Nashville.

What Addison Johnson does that makes Dark Side of the Mountain so immediately compelling is he takes classic country music themes familiar to us all so they’re easy to warm to, but imbues them with smart writing and new twists so they come out fresh, punctuated by his Piedmont drawl. Addison’s knack for storytelling is really what sets this record off. You’re riding shotgun with him as he grooves in “Rollin’ Stolen.” You feel satisfaction when he gets back at his cheating lover in “Heartache in the Hills.” Addison Johnson is an anti-hero for hillbillies.

Even when he lays into the traditional drinking songs, like “Blue Eyes Red” with its 90’s country radio divorcee sound, or “Old No. 7” which probably has been done a million times before, Addison is able to personalize them with his writing and the music that puts you in his shoes. Dark Side of the Mountain doesn’t have a weak track, and has a nose for the tempo to set each song in a perfect groove.

While still presenting a fairly cohesive sound and unique style, Addison Johnson and his cohorts cover a lot of ground when it comes to sound and style. “Dark Side of the Mountain” and “Barely Gettin’ By” definitely remind you of the strong destitute Kentucky coal-region mood that is defining much of the best independent country music at the moment. But “Rollin’ Stolen” and “Blue Eyes Red” sound like something Brooks & Dunn or Clint Black could have cut if the lyrics were a bit different.

And like all good and dark country records do, there is a moment of redemption at the end with “Black Leather Red Letters.” Again, allusions to the Bible are common song fodder in country. But it’s the way Addison is able to revitalize the trope, and infuse it in a bluegrass-inspired country Gospel song that makes it feel new to you, like he’s singing right into your soul.

There might be better written albums in the Americana realm, or country records that feature more hot pickin’, or something that includes more striking originality. But when it comes to losing yourself in in a good country record that is enjoyable to listen to and good for a road trip, Addison Johnson’s Dark Side of the Mountain is just about perfect.

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1 3/4 Guns Up (8.5/10)

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