Jamey Johnson's two-CD album, "The Guitar Song," opens with a country-music star telling a stranger in a bar how lonely and pressured life has gotten since hitting the top. The stranger promptly sets him straight. "It may be lonely at the top," the guy retorts, "but it's a (expletive) at the bottom."

Co-written by the late Keith Whitley, "Lonely at the Top" sets the tone for Johnson's first release since hitting the big-time himself with his 2008 album, "That Lonesome Song." For one, the song spikes a pedal-steel driven country shuffle with blasts of Southern-rock guitar. It's a pattern Johnson continues through the album, balancing traditional country with contemporary splashes that often stretch into lengthy instrumental jams.

Moreover, the lyrics repeatedly draw on class tensions between poor and rich. Johnson clearly sides with the have-nots, inducing defiance in character-driven story lines that avoid the rural-pride cliches so popular in country songs these days.

Michael McCall, For The Associated Press

'The Guitar Song'

Jamey Johnson

(Mercury Nashville)