Jamey Johnson is a dark-hearted country beardo who sings like he's just been punched in the gut. His newish album, That Lonesome Song, is a superlative tapestry of bummers bemoaning his demons, Jesus, and his ex. That said, there couldn't have been a weirder setting for the hirsute singer's New York debut than Jazz at Lincoln Center — an auditorium in the Time Warner Center that, from the inside, feels like a glass-plated spaceship hovering over Columbus Circle. Yet while the invite-only crowd was pungent with designer perfume, Johnson's songs still managed to conjure the reek of skunked Budweiser. During his opening number, "High Cost of Living," he furrowed his brow and moaned as if sprawled out on the barroom floor: "I had a job and a piece of land / And my sweet wife was my best friend / But I traded that for cocaine and a whore."
As if we had any soul left to crush, headliner Lee Ann Womack tried to out-sad the opener with songs from her forthcoming disc, Call Me Crazy. She doled out downers in a sparkly dress that appeared to be sequined in stainless steel — perhaps to deflect any mascara-stained teardrops. "I'm past the point of give-a-damn and all my tears are cried," she declared plaintively on "Either Way." But where Johnson groaned, Womack soared, delivering melancholic crescendos that were as exhilarating as they were bruising. Who knew getting your heart mashed into sawdust on a Wednesday night could be this much fun?