Jamey Johnson – “In Color”
Songwriters: Jamey Johnson, Lee Miller, and James Otto
Jamey Johnson got the raw end of the deal in the Sony-BMG merger and found himself releasing his sophmore effort digitally last year without the support of a major label. That Lonesome Song ended up in the sixth slot on our list of the best albums of 2007 and a couple of songs made our best songs of 2007 list, including “In Color,” which came in at fifteen. Mercury must have been watching the talented singer/songwriter and signed him to a deal this year and now “In Color” is being released as the first single.
The song centers around a grandfather detailing the events surrounding old black and white photographs to his grandson and basically wraps a couple of cliche phrases together (“You had to be there” and “A picture is worth a thousand words”), but states them in a unique and refreshing way, with the title phrase serving as a double entendre of sorts.
Using photographs as a way to describe a series of events along the timeline of a person’s life isn’t a new songwriting technique, but it takes a talented songwriter to fill each verse with such vivid and emotive imagery without becoming overwrought. As an example, the grandfather describes WWII from a common soldier’s view without ever having to name it:
This one here was taken overseas
In the middle of hell in 1943, it was winter time
You can almost see my breath
That was my tailgunner, Ol’ Johnny McGee
A high school teacher from New Orleans
And he had my back, right through the day we left
In one verse, Johnson is able to capture the essence of the war, the people involved, and the relationship and camaraderie between those people. In the next verse, when the grandfather starts filling in the colors of the black and white photograph of his wedding photo, he subtly paints emotion into what might otherwise be a dull snapshot in time–and even though we have an insight into that emotion, it still can’t capture being there in color.
The production stays out of the way of the vivid stories and adds a richness and expressiveness to the song as it builds up towards the chorus. Johnson may not be the most gifted vocalist as far as range goes, but he is more than capable and knows how to interpret a song for good effect. Needless to say, he nails the delivery in this song.
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