Jerrod Niemann is a successful songwriter whose tunes have been recorded by Garth Brooks, Jamey Johnson, and Blake Shelton. His 2010 Arista debut Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury yielded a #1 single with “Lover, Lover” that earned Platinum status. The album’s understated, irreverent, and quirky approach totally rejected Nashville’s usual sound-alike assembly line production style.
Free the Music aims Niemann’s iconoclasm another direction. Taking a long-range view of country past and present, the Kansas native slices and dices sounds from different eras in ways that don’t exactly echo Brooks, Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, or Merle Haggard.
Don’t look for the usual Music Row studio aces in the credits. Niemann largely relied on his own band, including three horns and avoiding steel guitar. The dense arrangements aren’t solo heavy, though Tim Teague handles some guitar work and album coproducer Dave Brainard plays guitar, bass, and other instruments.
The opening title song offers music unconventional, yet oddly faithful to the past. The Dixieland overtones of “Honky Tonk Fever” and “It Won’t Matter Anymore” don’t seem so odd when you realize Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, and even Haggard all invoked the style at various times. “Only God Could Love You More” is as strong – and individualistic – a country love ballad as any around today.
“Real Women Drink Beer” slyly spoofs two grossly overused themes in current tunes, complete with a chickenpickin’ guitar break enhancing another freewheeling arrangement. “Fraction Of A Man” offers a neo-Haggard approach with bits of Jordanaires-style backing vocals and New Orleans horns. Niemann’s past successes prove beyond question he’s no experimental artist. He may not be a mainstream icon. Still, in Nashville’s often rigid climate, anything as uninhibited as Free the Music is a revelation.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’13 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.