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Nashville producer offers two identities at once 

click to enlarge Whitey Johnson (More Days Like This)
  • Whitey Johnson (More Days Like This)

Musicians playing with alter egos can provide both fun and insight. Garth Brooks’ 1999 adoption of the rock persona Chris Gaines stands as the most familiar of the genre. Experimentalist Haley Fohr, best known as Circuit des Yeux, has recorded country ballads under the name Jackie Lynn. Now Nashville producer Gary Nicholson, who has worked with such leading lights as Ringo Starr and Bonnie Raitt, has launched duo albums on Blue Corn Music under his own name (The Great Divide), and the name of obscure blues artist Whitey Johnson (More Days Like This). Both albums are worth repeated listens, but is the split personality strategy optimal?

Sincere and powerful lyrics in The Great Divide make this country-rock vehicle the stronger of the duo, particularly when Nicholson calls for unity and the rule of law in songs like “Immigrant Nation” and “We Are One.” A skeptic might say populists enhance their power precisely by admitting out loud they are jerks who don’t care about other people, but at least Nicholson tries in uncompromising fashion. As Whitey Johnson, Nicholson delivers 10 party tracks that include songs made famous by Buddy Guy and Guy Clark. The album’s inherent identity mystery calls to mind Hari Kunzru’s novel White Tears, but would these two releases work best as a combined testament?

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