Jamey Johnson has been holding onto his new single “You Can” for about a decade. He penned the clever love song with Dan Couch (a frequent collaborator with Kip Moore) back in 2004 or 2005 — he can’t quite pinpoint a date — but decided not to include it on his debut album, 2006’s The Dollar. It didn’t make the cut for 2008’s That Lonesome Song, nor 2010’s The Guitar Song either, but was burning a hole in his pocket for all those years.
“I still had a bunch of songs that didn’t seem to fit this record or that one, but some of them are my favorite songs,” Johnson tells Rolling Stone of sidelining “You Can” and other tunes for the right album.
And if the song is indicative of the tone of the Alabama native’s upcoming album, it’s going to be more of the same lyrically-driven, production-light Jamey Johnson music that has made him a songwriting legend at just 39 years old… but with more energy than previous releases. “You Can” starts with a few seconds of an upright bass solo, a bit reminiscent of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons,” and then yields to a jam session of steel guitar, fiddle, piano, drums and guitars that complement the lighthearted storyline. Its lyrics are stocked with similarly savvy metaphors to that classic Ford song, too, as the musician likens the power a woman has over him to humorously impossible feats.
“I can’t win a fight just by puttin’ down your mother/Can’t make a baby just by looking at each other/Can’t go to sleep unless I close my eyes/And can’t nobody make a grown man cry like you can,” he sings.
“I just started off these lines and batted a few at [Dan], and we found we were loaded with ’em. We had enough to write this one down quick,” Johnson recalls of the writing session.
The recording session was a seemingly effortless free-for-all, as well: “It’s kinda like a Roger Miller sound, where it’s the stand-up, doghouse bass and when the chorus hits, I told the guys, ‘Go big band meets vaudeville.’ Everybody plays like they’ve got the lead. It’s the combination of how these things work together and intertwine that makes it a cool piece to listen to. Everybody’s still playing with one another, but they’re all playing like they’re going on their own path.”
“You Can” follows the introspective “Alabama Pines” and a holiday EP, The Christmas Song, as the first few tracks released from Johnson’s newly-formed Big Gassed Records. He started the indie label as a way to help artists “get started on their own terms,” he tells Rolling Stone Country. And those terms, when making an album, are open to thinking outside the box, both creatively and logistically.
“An album doesn’t know a number of songs. A good album doesn’t have to have the right number of songs, it has to have the right songs. If we have five or six, but we don’t have 10 or 12, then [that’s fine],” Johnson reasons. “But if I’m gonna make an album, and I want it to be an hour or an hour and a half or whatever time length it takes to tell the story, I want to be able to do that without having to ask permission. And now I can.”
The singer-songwriter has kept mum on a release date for a full-length LP, but he does hint that the song releases will be steady this year. “You Can” came out just one month after “Alabama Pines,” which is an uncommonly short amount of time in the country singles world.
“We don’t have to go through the same waiting process that other artists might have to, stand in line and wait to get their music out,” says Johnson. “What I’m looking to do is supply my music to my fans…. That way we don’t have to keep ’em waiting four years for another album.”
“You Can” is now available on iTunes.
(Additional reporting by Patrick Doyle.)