My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Right there in black and white

jameyjohnsonI’m a newbie lover of Country music. There’s just something about it that’s drawn me in. I know it has a great deal to do with the stories – both in the songs and of the artists themselves. Similarly, I love it when the tune or the arrangement or the inflection in the singer’s voice nuances the story, and makes it come to life.

For example, I love Jamey Johnson’s ‘In Color’. It’s my pick in the Single Record and Song of the Year categories at Sunday’s ACM Awards. The whole song literally turns those black and white photos into color, from the lyrics to Jamey’s vocals to the arrangement and production.

The intro quietly starts with a little guitar and light keyboard, as though a couple of family members are improvising in one corner of the living room while a young man and his grandfather are sitting at the kitchen table flipping through an old photo album from the ‘30s and ‘40s. The young man points and asks if that’s Grandpa in one of the photos. Grandpa acknowledges that yes, he was 11, farming cotton in the depression. The instrumentation remains sparse and Jamey’s solo vocals are as dusty as that decade.

There’s a build on the chorus: ‘If it looks like we were scared to death like a couple of kids just trying to save each other, you shoulda seen it in color’. The instrumentation deepens with some additional guitars, the trap’s cymbals and some urgency in Jamey’s voice turning the black and white into color. The next shot is one of Grandpa and his gunner during the war sometime in the winter of 1943. The music includes the hint of military snare and the addition of a background vocal, but is sparse and transparent again, just like Grandpa’s breath on that winter day. As he remembers his friend, a teacher from New Orleans, the color develops in the drums. Some additional guitars playing melodic lines weave in and out with Jamey’s voice as it builds again to the next chorus with an added line – ‘A picture’s worth a thousand words but you can’t see what those shades of gray keep covered. You shoulda seen it in color’. A single guitar solo brings the pace down for the last verse.

The next one is Grandpa’s favorite – he and Grandma’s wedding day. The acoustic guitar and keyboard are back with just a sigh of electric guitar and a partner background vocal as Jamey sings tenderly how the ‘rose was red and her eyes were blue’.  You can almost see Grandpa sit back looking at that last photo as Jamey thoughtfully pauses on the last line of the verse, and the melody and chording take a new turn, reflecting Grandpa’s new insight: ‘That’s the story of my life…right there in black and white’.

The full instrumentation and background vocals rhythmically drive to the final chorus: ‘A picture’s worth a thousand words but you can’t see what those shades of gray keep covered. You shoulda seen it in color’. The song closes by peeling off the layers of “color” down to the “black and white” of the solo acoustic guitar.

For a country song, you just can’t get much better than that.

7 responses to “Right there in black and white

  1. J.R. Journey April 3, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Great first article, Meg!

    I agree this is one of the best country songs to come along in a while. I was really surprised at its chart success actually. Usually, a song like this is too good for radio playlists.

    And with ‘Stay’ not in the running, I think ‘In Color’ will win Song of the Year too. I’m still undecided on the Single race.

  2. Occasional Hope April 3, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    It is a very fine song. I hope Jamey does win something at the ACMs since he got frozen out of the fanvoted new artist category.

  3. Leeann Ward April 3, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Nice article. I like this song too, though the appeal isn’t as strong as it once was for me.

  4. Meg April 3, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    I enjoyed the music video for this one, too — the way it starts in black and white with all the photos scattered around him as he sings, slowly washing a wave of color through them, close-ups of some of the shots, etc. Left the characters in the song up to people’s imaginations. Like the song itself, the video was understated and not a big production — perfect for the song.

  5. Meg April 6, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    Way to go Jamey on taking home an ACM! Have to admit the live performance with the “black and white” effect wasn’t as much of a winner as I’d hoped it would be. It’s the understatement of Jamey’s performance on the recording that’s so perfect. Hard to do live.

  6. jeremiah dailey April 16, 2009 at 10:02 am

    i love this song to death

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