As a reviewer, it’s my “job” to walk into every piece of music that I listen completely devoid of any bias towards or against an artist. After all, we’re looking to be as fair as we can be, and having any existing pre-expectations can really hurt one’s view of how he or she approaches the project.
But hey, we’re all humans at the end of the day, and I’ll tell you a little secret. None of us can walk into a project completely unfazed once we get something into our heads. Coming into Cody Johnson’s Gotta Be Me album, I really didn’t know what to think, mostly because peoples’ views of him were extremely divided. Some people couldn’t get enough of this guy while others seemed a little more lukewarm to his material. Granted, this happens with every artist, but rarely to the extent I saw with Cody Johnson.
I’m looking at Cody completely dominating the iTunes charts, and while many people are shocked, I’m really not. Gotta Be Me isn’t a complete country throwback album in the vein of Luke Bell or Kelsey Waldon. Instead, it’s looking towards the future, making a sound that’s undeniably country and yet more importantly sounds like it’s evolving the genre. Sure, there’s a couple moments where the drum loops are noticeable and the electric guitar comes blazing through, but as a whole, Gotta Be Me is definitely a good ambassador for those continuously growing tired of turning on their country radio dials and not actually hearing country music, which might be attributing to its success.
Like I said, the sound is mightily enjoyable all throughout and just might be this album’s greatest asset. The opening title track sounds reminiscent of an 80’s or 90’s George Strait song and the same can be said for the album highlight, “The Only One I Know (Cowboy Life)”. “Walk Away”, “Chain Drinkin’”, and pretty much the entire latter half are all undeniably country save for “Billy’s Brother” which is a fun little honky-tonk foot stomper. Even more modern tracks such as “With You I Am”, “Wild As You”, and “Kiss Goodbye” (despite me not liking that spoken word part AT ALL) all work thanks to Cody’s sincere delivery. Like I said, they’re songs that should be what mainstream country sounds like in 2016 but doesn’t.
When it comes to the writing, I’m not going to tell you what any other reviewer hasn’t already said. Sure, it’s not ground-breaking overall, and there’s definitely filler moments on this album. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some truly standout moments that could fight with the best of them in 2016. As I said before, “The Only One I Know” is a song that comes from the heart for Cody that captures the kind of person he is. “Walk Away” is a solid country song about a man who confronts his friend about sleeping with his wife. The latter half of this album is where the writing truly gets to shine however. “I Know My Way Back (Clara’s Song)” is a song sent from Cody to his daughter about being on the road all the time and telling her to not worry since he always knows his way back home. Of course, the stunning moment on this album ends with the solely acoustic “I Can’t Even Walk (Without You Holding My Hand)” which is a damn good spiritual song.
Sure, there’s moments such as “Grass Stains” and “Chain Drinkin”” that don’t add much to the album. And despite me liking the song overall, the title track had me rolling my eyes as Cody told me how country he was. Thankfully though, he does a lot on this to show it instead of say it.
Gotta Be Me isn’t going to be one of those albums that completely blows you out of the water. That’s okay though. There’s a time and a place for more serious albums and there’s a time and a place for these type of fun, easy to enjoy albums. It’s great to see this album have the success that it has so far, because despite what some might say, Cody is definitely one of the good guys as far as bringing actual country music back is concerned. As far as judging Gotta Be Me and Cody Johnson in the right here and right now, I’d say this is a damn solid album.