Josh Thompson - Way Out Here
By: Bobby Peacock
Josh Thompson certainly has an interesting backstory. In college, he took a wilderness guide course, literally living off the land for nine months. That's cool. He played in a country band at a music festival in my home state (hint: peninsulas are involved). That's cool. He cites Haggard as an influence, and he's opened for certified badasses Jamey Johnson and Hank Williams, Jr. Also cool. Co-writes with David Lee Murphy, George Ducas, Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson? You guessed it; also cool.
The album kicks off with its first single, the Top 20 hit "Beer on the Table." Although this kind of song has been done so many times before (the lyric "working hard all week puts the beer on the table" says it all), Thompson sells it with an engaging everyman vocal. This song was a strong choice for the lead-off single, but it's only a taste of what the other nine tracks offer.
Thompson comes off confident and assured in every song, and while the lyrics mine a very large number of country-boy imagery, his imagery is judicious, original and authentic. He doesn't drop Haggard's and Jones' names while sounding more like Bon Jovi; instead, he offers gems like "If you ain't made love to a Haggard cassette, well, you ain't seen country yet." Similarly, when he sings about all of his personality traits can be traced back somewhere (think Sawyer Brown's "Thank God for You"), his musical tastes and outlaw persona trace back to Waylon Jennings. "Way Out Here" tells us that his folks smoke and chew and fry everything, and somehow comes up with a multiple name-drop ("John Wayne, Johnny Cash and John Deere") that is both authentic and clever.
"Won't Be Lonely Long" employs an effective bait-and-switch, starting off painting a picture of a dejected man who can barely muster up the strength to fire up his truck, but once he's on the bar, he's partying. The opening verse is full of evocative details that would lead off to a sad, downbeat song which would be every bit as excellent even if it stuck in that vein.
"Sinner" finds him confessing that he is indeed a sinner, but has not swayed in his beliefs. Its religious images are fairly obvious but not contrived or overdone, making the song positively refreshing in an era where it seems that songwriters believe that religious images have to be beaten over the listener's head.
On the unapologetic "Always Been Me," Thompson sings that he has "never acted fake to impress anyone," which is only driven home in "A Name in This Town." In that song, he offers some very original details about all the cool things he's done; caught a big fish, fought his way out of a bar, broken a land speed record down an old backroad, et cetera. Indeed, Thompson comes off as just a good ol' boy singing about himself. And that's exactly what he is.
"Back Around" shows a softer side with its evocative reminiscence ("We lost more than a diamond earring" alone is a winner) of that first taste of love, much like a male version of "Strawberry Wine." After it comes the closer "I Won't Go Crazy," another slower song that offers the killer hook "My mind's broke, but I won't go crazy." In it, he says that he just might grow a beard or take advice from a gypsy or do anything to get her off his mind, but not go crazy.
Thompson posesses a clear, distinctive, confident voice that combines the easygoing charm of Brad Paisley with the bracing grit of Trent Willmon. His lyrics are simple, conversational and fresh; his melodies, rock-solid. Michael Knox's production is strong and energetic without being overbearing, keeping the songs unabashedly country. All ten songs (I thought ten-song albums died with the digital era!) are cohesive and uniform in quality, offering a crystal-clear image of who he is both musically and personally. Way Out Here is one of the most impressive country debuts in recent history.