When describing their songs — or the third-party songs they’ve chosen to record — many country stars lean on the word “real.” Authenticity is the ballyhooed hallmark of country music, but more often than not, such talk of “realness” can come across as lip service.
Not so with Chris Janson. His new single “Holdin’ Her” is a candid recollection of meeting his wife Kelly and how their eventual union changed his hard-living ways. Far from just a love song, “Holdin’ Her,” off Janson’s debut album Buy Me a Boat, doesn’t shy away from the things he’s done during, what he calls, his “drinking days.” The first verse details booze-fueled one-night stands: “I woke up in places / that I couldn’t remember / who’s lying next to me / or even how I got there.”
Although Janson no longer drinks, he’s adamant about not glossing over the more regrettable decisions of his life.
“No way, you can’t. You can’t do that, because that’s not real,” says Janson, sitting backstage prior to a performance at the Grand Ole Opry, the country music institution he’s played now more than 130 times. “I woke up in places I couldn’t remember — I think we’ve all probably been there at one point in our life, no matter who you are.”
At the Opry that night, Janson closes his three-song set with “Holdin’ Her,” the same song he performed when he made his debut in the hallowed circle as a still unknown artist in 2013. He receives a standing ovation, and even a security guard standing near the stage door remarks, “Look at that.” Because of the song’s bare-bones honesty, and the passionate way in which Janson sells it onstage, “Holdin’ Her” has become a fan favorite, and the response it receives nightly rivals that of his breakthrough Number One “Buy Me a Boat.”
“It gets a bigger reaction than ‘Boat’ actually,” clarifies Janson, who co-wrote “Holdin’ Her” with James Otto. “It’s the oldest song on the record, and I’ve been playing it for a lot of years. People have always gravitated toward it. I think they like the story and it’s gaining new fans as it’s heard on the radio and since the video came out. It’s catching steam on its own.”
“Holdin’ Her” got its greatest bump when Janson performed it during the New Faces showcase at February’s Country Radio Seminar, the annual gathering of radio tastemakers in Nashville. There too, the song received a standing ovation from program directors and deejays — despite its undeniably traditional country arrangement. While “Buy Me a Boat” also featured steel guitar, its up-tempo vibe and Everyman theme fit nicely into country-radio playlists. “Holdin’ Her,” however, sticks out as both a ballad and for its heartfelt, serious subject matter. Then again, Cam’s “Burning House” was no party anthem either and it became a major hit. And, conversely, Janson’s follow-up to “Boat,” the trite drinking song “Power of Positive Drinkin’,” stalled in the Top 30.