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Jerrod Niemann, Josh Thompson Beat the Heat

Jerrod Niemann photo by Jeremy Cowart, courtesy of myspace.com/jerrodniemann.

Jerrod Niemann photo by Jeremy Cowart, courtesy of myspace.com/jerrodniemann.

It was called Live On The Lawn. But with the heat index challenging 100 degrees these days in Nashville, outside concerts aren’t really all that attractive. So Sony pulled a couple of new artists indoors and showcased Jerrod Niemann and Josh Thompson Wednesday for a bevy of industry folks in its Music Row headquarters.

Only in Nashville can you “turn a record label into a honky tonk in the middle of the afternoon,” Jerrod quipped. It wasn’t quite a honky tonk — there was no sawdust on the floor, no neon sign and very little chatter during the singers’ sets. There were, however, frozen margaritas and a serve-yourself fajita bar. And some pretty good music.

The setting carried some weight with it. The performance offered music publishers and some media types — including a handful of GAC decision makers — to sample the new artists as Sony eases them into the limelight. And the guys clearly recognized the pressure that accompanies that kind of scrutiny.

“I feel like there’s a lot of people watching, a lot of people judging,” Josh observed.

Neither Josh nor Jerrod wilted under the microscope. Josh, in a plaid shirt and jeans, delivered four songs that showed his outlaw tendencies. Two acoustic guitars lit into hard-edged rhythms on his opening “Blame It On Waylon,” the cadence of “Beer On The Table” set a hypnotic atmosphere and the hell-raising kiss-off song “I Won’t Be Lonely Long” was the swaggering antithesis of Clay Walker’s similarly titled “She Won’t Be Lonely Long.” Josh managed to blend a cool demeanor and an almost-snarling, Eric Church tone with songs that really do belong in a honky tonk.

Jerrod was quite the wind-up comedian with a drop-dead impression of John Anderson — who co-wrote “How Can I Be So Thirsty,” one of the four songs in his set — and a self-effacing summation of his years of struggle in Nashville: “I couldn’t get arrested — and believe me, I tried a lot!”

Jerrod worked a clear, reedy vocal tone that bears some resemblance to Joe Nichols and leaned on drinking themes, closing with a rendition of his current Top 10 hit “Lover, Lover.” The song felt a little naked without the stacked blue-eyed soul harmonies on the chorus, but its greasy little melody and his well-suited texture more than made up for the loss.

Fortunately, cutting the lawn from the performance plan eliminated the perspiration that most of the party-goers would have developed. And Jerrod and Josh? They handled the pressure with no sweat. It’s a good bet they’ll be playing plenty more shows for movers and shakers… and for real people in real honky tonks, too.

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