I don’t pretend to be an expert on country music. I don’t care for so-called "new country" - to me it’s little more than pop music with big hats – but admit to a serious weakness for true hurtin’ music.
Given my relative ignorance of country’s lore and arcana, my criteria for greatness necessarily has more to do with sincerity and emotional honesty than anything else. On that basis, Johnny Bush is a talent of the highest order.
Johnny rides herd here (sorry – couldn’t resist!) over fourteen slices of real, cry-in-your-beer hurtin’ songs. The kind that ‘sophisticates’ make fun of. Hey, a title like "Wish I’d Seen Your Going Coming" almost begs ridicule . . . until, that is, you find yourself alone in the dark, knowing you’ve messed up a good thing, or someone’s done you wrong, and there’s an ache deep inside that just won’t quit. That’s when a single Johnny Bush song’ll do you more good than an MBA or a Porsche in the driveway!
Johnny’s career goes ‘way back to the early sixties, when he started singing in the roadhouses and honky tonks of his native Texas. A rare neurological disorder that virtually wiped out his voice almost put stop to his career, but he’s battled back and now sounds fine. Fine, that is, for songs like this . . . his dry Texas drawl, while unlikely to win any awards for technical merit, is utterly perfect for the material at hand. Johnny’s vocals are utterly without affectation; he simply tells his tale, always staying on the right side of sentiment and avoiding the slippery slope that leads to bathos.
Though I don’t recognize the sidemen at work here, I’d be surprised if they aren’t well-known in country circles; playing is impeccable throughout, as is the sound. In all respects, this is a first-rate effort.
Make no mistake, folks . . . there’s not a lot of sunshine in this collection. It’s all about heartbreak and hurt. (Whattya expect from titles like "They’re Hanging Me Tonight," or "Pride Goes Before A Fall")? Sure it’s corny. Heck, it’s supposed to be corny. Just as there are traditions – in theme and execution – within the blues idiom, there are traditions in country too. And this is as close to traditional as it gets – pure, unabashedly hokey honky tonk.
Setting musical tastes aside, I’d say that if you can’t feel this stuff – if you can’t establish some sort of emotional connection – then either you haven’t lived much, or you’re simply incapable of deep feeling.
Either way, there’s an easy cure . . . listen, then listen again, to the heartfelt truths of Johnny Bush. Repeat as necessary.
Texas Music Group, P.O. Box 38 Austin, TX 78767-0038
This review is copyright © 2000 by John Taylor, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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