Album - Cody Johnson - Leather
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‘Whiskey Bent’ by Cody Johnson & Jelly Roll - Lyrics & Meaning

November 3, 2023 12:01 am GMT
Last Edited December 18, 2023 9:44 pm GMT

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Cody Johnson & Jelly Roll - ‘Whiskey Bent’

Label: CoJo Music / Warner Music Nashville

Release Date: November 3rd 2023

Album: Leather

Producers: Trent Willmon

Songwriters: Adam James, Mikey Reaves & Rocky Block

The Background:

‘Whiskey Bent’ arrived as part of Cody Johnson's highly anticipated 2023 album, Leather, and served as the latest in a string of traditional-leaning collaborations from Jelly Roll.

The ‘Need A Favor’ hitmaker stormed onto the country music scene with his fiery yet soulful fusion of country, rock and rap. However, throughout 2023 Jelly has surprised fans with a slew of classic country duets, including ‘Chevrolet’ with Dustin Lynch, ‘Copenhagen in a Cadillac’ with Riley Green and ‘Almost Home’ with Craig Morgan.

From the title, many expected ‘Whiskey Bent’ to be a hell-raising, alcohol-soaked Friday night anthem. However, touchingly, it's a deeply introspective, repentant account of all the ways in which those torn whiskey seals led to broken hearts, trucks and even walls.

Cody Johnson first teased the collaboration while backstage during CMA Fest 2023, with the Texas native paying tribute to all the unexpected similarities between the two artists.

The Sound:

‘Whiskey Bent’ opens with a soft, tentative acoustic guitar, with Cody Johnson crooning gently across the stripped-back introduction. The former rodeo cowboy mirrors the hesitance of the instrumental with the uncertainty and unsteadiness of his vocal, as the protagonist builds up the confidence to confess his mistakes.

As Cody meanders seamlessly into the chorus, the subtle cry of a steel guitar is brought in to help accentuate the crescendo, as well as adding weight to the emotionality of the hook.

Jelly Roll takes the lead for the second verse, bringing a sense of gravitas with his baritone that complements Cody's similarly deep vocals, but with a slight huskiness and gravelly quality that ensures each artist's contribution feels as though it adds a distinct perspective.

Each artist infuses their a powerful fragility and delicacy into their voice, which intensifies the remorse that underpins each admission of alcohol-fuelled weakness in the past. Instead of adding in more instrumentation for the grand finale when Cody Johnson repeats the hook, the production is kept movingly intricate, letting the hollow glow of the spotlight fall solely on Cody's vulnerable vocals.

The Meaning:

“It put a hole in my wallet

Put a hole in my wall

It put a whole lot of lonely in this 2am phone call”

Cody Johnson begins ‘Whiskey Bent’ by listing a few things that his over-reliance on whiskey has led to over the years, including significant financial losses and a fist-sized hole in the wall seemingly stemming from an alcohol-provoked fit of rage.

The song's protagonist then reveals that this confession is being made through an early-hours phone-call to his ex, and he blames the liquor for making him as lonely and isolated as he currently is. We later find out that his family left due to his alcoholism.

“It put your Honda on the highway

And my Chevy in a ditch

Just had to call you up cause

I ain’t touched that stuff ever since”

CoJo then delves into how his whiskey dependence led his partner to get in her Honda and leave him, while he also shares how an instance of drunk-driving sent his Chevrolet barrelling off the road.

Endearingly, Cody Johnson stresses to his ex that her decision to leave him ultimately served as the catalyst for him deciding to get his act together and sober up once and for all. He underlines that, since that fateful day, he's been completely clean.

“It made me say some things I shouldn’t

Made me break some things I wouldn’t

Like the heart that you kept puttin in my hands

Got me picking up the pieces

Gettin back in touch with Jesus

For some grace in case one of y’all comes back again

I’m just tryin’ to straighten up what whiskey bent”

Throughout the chorus, the protagonist employs the metaphor of the whiskey ‘bending’ and breaking various aspects of his life, from physical objects to relationships and faith.

The keystone of the track is the witty play on the phrase ‘Whiskey Bent’, which usually refers to an unwavering, unavoidable reliance on the alcohol, with one of the most prominent uses of the term emerging during Hank Williams Jr.'s iconic ‘Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound’.

Cody adds an extra layer to the story by implying that not only has his wife left him, but she's also taken a child (or children) with her. He confides that he's, “praying one of y'all comes back again”, although he leaves it open-ended as to who exactly he's referring to, which in turn enhances the relatability and accessibility of ‘Whiskey Bent’.

The hook of this CoJo and Jelly duet leads the listener towards the pivotal lyric, where the artists reiterate how they're desperately attempting to “straighten up what whiskey bent”.

“Now I’m still payin’ for it

But it ain’t on a tab

It’s all the dreamin’ of instead of wakin’ up to the best I ever had

And I been spending every second waitin’ for that second chance that I might not even have”

Jelly Roll enters the fray with another spine-tingling metaphor, with the Nashvillian explaining that he's still paying for his alcohol-fuelled mistakes, only this time, he's not doing so via a bar-tab.

The latter half of Jelly's verse is overflowing with clever intricacies and pieces of wordplay, with the artist juxtaposing how he now spends all his time ‘dreamin’ of his lover's return, instead of ‘wakin’ up’ to her every morning in his bed.

Then, the protagonist delivers a spin on the meaning of ‘second’, with Jelly Roll crooning wistfully that he's “been spending every second waitin’ for that second chance that I might not even have”.

What has Cody Johnson said about ‘Whiskey Bent’?

In a 2023 conversation with Billboard, Cody Johnson explained how he ended up cutting ‘Whiskey Bent’, despite harbouring reservations about the name at first, “They told me the title and I said, ‘I hate it already because it sounds like an old cliché; I’m not singing that song. But then I heard the lyrics about trying to put a life and a love back together -especially the hook, ‘I’m still trying to straighten out what whiskey bent’”.

He then revealed that Jelly Roll was originally meant to sing on another Leather song, ‘Jesus Loves You’, “[Jelly] asked me what else I was working on and I played him ‘Whiskey Bent.’ He just started crying and was like, ‘Bro, I ain’t never heard a song like that. If I’m gonna be on a song, can it be that one?’ I gave him the entire second verse. It didn’t take him long to learn the song and he did incredibly”.

Cody concluded by candidly speaking about how he relates to the song, “I think we’ve both lived that song in our own ways. People look at me as this clean-cut, wholesome guy, but I’m no different than anybody else. I’ve got demons in my closet and things in my past that are hard to deal with, that I go to therapy sometimes to deal with. I’ve lived a very fast-paced, lot-of-pressure kind of life and I’ve made mistakes. I haven’t started doing regular sessions; I need to talk in the moment. I’m slowly but surely softening up, just like the song ‘Leather.’ I know it takes time to open up and not be so hard-edged on that. But just recognizing it is the hard part”.

In an interview while backstage at 2023 CMA Fest, Cody Johnson began teasing the impending Jelly Roll collaboration, “Respect is mutual, and real recognises real. So, absolutely, we've talked about working together. I have a very thick background on incarceration. Jelly did time. We've talked about that. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be the best husband, to try to be the best father, for our [bands], to try to be the best leader, to be the best performer...it's almost like a blessing and a curse, because we put so much on ourselves. I relate to [Jelly Roll], and he relates to me. We're so opposite. You know, you've got the cowboy hat and the face tattoos - I think it's just an ‘opposites attract’ kind of thing”.

For the full lyrics to Cody Johnson and Jelly Roll's ‘Whiskey Bent’, see below:

“It put a hole in my wallet

Put a hole in my wall

It put a whole lot of lonely in this 2am phone call

It put your Honda on the highway

And my Chevy in a ditch

Just had to call you up cause

I ain’t touched that stuff ever since

It made me say some things I shouldn’t

Made me break some things I wouldn’t

Like the heart that you kept puttin in my hands

Got me picking up the pieces

Gettin back in touch with Jesus

For some grace in case one of y’all comes back again

I’m just tryin’ to straighten up what whiskey bent

Now I’m still payin’ for it

But it ain’t on a tab

It’s all the dreamin’ of instead of wakin’ up to the best I ever had

And I been spending every second waitin’ for that second chance that I might not even have

Cause it made me say some things I shouldn’t

Made me break some things I wouldn’t

Like the heart that you kept puttin’ in my hands

Got me picking up the pieces

Falling back in love with Jesus

And praying one of y’all comes back again

I’m just tryin’ to straighten up what whiskey bent

It made me say some things I shouldn’t

Made me break some things I wouldn’t

Like the heart that you kept puttin’ in my hands

It’s got me picking up the pieces

Gettin ‘back in touch with Jesus

For some grace in case one of y’all comes back again

Until then I’ll be tryin to straighten up what whiskey bent

What whiskey bent”

For more on Cody Johnson, see below:

Written by Maxim Mower
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