Gotta Be Me (Bonus Track Version)

Gotta Be Me (Bonus Track Version)

No one would accuse Cody Johnson of trying to modernize his chosen genre or embrace the contemporary beats of bro country; the Texan singer has always traded in tradition, even while dabbling in rock guitar on 2014’s Cowboy Like Me. But his 2016 LP, Gotta Be Me, doubles down on the sound, hewing closer to the earthier country of his early days. By the time he got to cutting Gotta Be Me, Johnson and his longtime collaborator, producer Trent Willmon, were working together together smoothly. It’s no surprise that the record was Johnson’s final independently released album before signing with a major label—the record’s confident and capable tracks make one wonder why they didn’t come knocking sooner. Even the more modern-sounding single “With You I Am”—a song about the self-esteem boost that comes from being loved—recalls classic ‘90s country as much as it does any of its contemporaries, and the arena-sized choruses of “Wild as You'' are heavy with fiddle and banjo. Elsewhere, the more raucous fare sounds decidedly down-home, like the roadhouse-ready “Grass Stains” or “Chain Drinkin’,” with its blazing guitars. Johnson draws on his experiences as a professional rodeo bull rider for the impassioned “The Only One I Know (Cowboy Life),” where his narrator admits that the path is hard and lonesome, but he can’t see an alternative. The spare, gospel-tinged bonus track, “I Can’t Even Walk (Without You Holding My Hand)”—a grateful ode to God’s grace—is one of the most moving in Johnson’s catalog. Gotta Be Me achieved smashing commercial and chart success for an independent country record, hitting No. 2 on the U.S. Country Billboard chart and nabbing Gold certification for “With You I Am” and “Wild as You.” The momentum would push Johnson into the major-label big leagues, as his follow-up, 2019’s Ain’t Nothin’ to It, became his first for Warner Music Nashville.

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