I’m pretty sure I said somewhere before that a major label would be wise to pick up Cody Johnson and lo and behold it finally happened. So after years of selling an impressive amount of albums and tickets as an independent artist, Cody Johnson makes his major label debut with Ain’t Nothin’ to It. The album title track opens and it’s about a father giving his son advice on how to navigate marriage and life. It’s a solid track with some heartfelt lyrics, but at times it gets a bit cliché for my taste. “Noise” is your standard country love song that if you heard it playing you’ll listen to it, but you don’t really seek it out. It does nothing particularly well nor right. “Fenceposts” is a bit saccharine and too predictable for my taste. It’s about a young couple starting out and their grand plans in life and if the song bothered to go beyond a surface level of substance I could maybe get into it, but it plays super safe.
“Understand Why” is one of my favorites on the album and that’s because I enjoy the lyrical imagery of a man hiding out in a hotel on the dark side of the moon to get over his heartbreak. Like he’s so over the relationship that he’s on the moon, which gives you a pretty good idea how much is heart was broken. I also enjoy the country rock flavor of the song, mashing together fiddles and electric guitars. I hate “Long Haired Country Boy” and for two big reasons. The writer of the song is Charlie Daniels and the song is about not about wanting to be judged for his appearances and to be allowed to be himself. You contrast this with some of the stuff he has said recently and it’s quite hypocritical. You’d think he would follow his own advice. I can’t help but think about that when hearing this song. The other reason is any song that knocks going to college and glorifying the townie who barely passed high school just insults my intelligence and pisses me off.
“Nothin’ On You” sees Cody Johnson trying his hand at a Stapleton-style song and it’s not half-bad. I never really pictured Johnson doing a soulful country song like this, but he pulls it off for the most part. His voice is strong enough to carry the weight of the lyrics, which aren’t spectacular, but they make for a good enough love ballad. “Honky Tonk Mood” is a really fun track that I can imagine you can gleam from the title what it’s about. It’s not trying to be anymore than a dancing country song and it does this quite well. “Monday Morning Merle” is about a man trying to get over his heartache, but always ending up right back to listening to Merle Haggard on a sad and lonely Monday morning. It’s another highlight on the album, as it does a great job utilizing it’s various artist references without feeling too heavy handed or cliché. It’s a pretty good heartbreak song.
“Y’all People” is a song dedicated to “CoJo Nation,” yet Johnson didn’t write it. Makes perfect sense to not write a song that you’ve specifically dedicated to your fans. Sure. Also this song is bland as hell. I don’t really have anything to say about “Where Cowboys Are King.” It’s a song on this album I guess. Lead single “On My Way to You” reminds me a lot of the great songs on Johnson’s previous album. It works really well for Johnson and that’s because you can feel he relates to what he’s singing. There’s a genuineness behind it, so it gives the song the heart it needs to connect with you.
“Doubt Me Now” is a “piss off to the haters” song and I have no problem with these kind of chip on your shoulder songs. But this song doesn’t meet the grade for me in that regard because it doesn’t have enough anger or intensity. Instead it comes off as petty whining and the line where he actually sings LOL spelled out makes me cringe. The final song on the album is “Dear Rodeo,” which is the only song written by Johnson on the album. So it makes sense it’s the most personal, as Johnson expresses his emotions over being retired from the rodeo due to a career-ending injury. He was forced to let go of something he loved, yet he’s never really let it go. It’s excellent songwriting, as Johnson lays out all the details and gives you a great look into his psyche on the subject.
While there are several good moments on the album, there’s enough bad and lackluster moments that it weighs down Ain’t Nothin’ to It and prevents me from calling it a good album. While Johnson has never been known as an amazing songwriter, I know from his previous albums he’s capable of doing better.