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Jamey Johnson

Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran (Mercury)

Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., Feb. 22, 2013

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Jamey Johnson

Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran (Mercury)

If there's still a torch to be passed in country music, Jamey Johnson is rightfully its bearer. The Alabama-born songwriter consumes styles with effortless authenticity, whether stomping outlaw, twanging heartache, crooning soulfully against jazz inflections, or hawking working-man anthems. Releasing a Hank Cochran tribute seems brash for only his fourth album, Johnson tackling some of the most hallowed songs in the Nashville canon, yet as he proved on 2010 double LP The Guitar Song, he works by his own rules. Living for a Song manages the same, with Johnson allowing the all-star cast to shine and the late Cochran's lyrics to linger. "Make the World Go Away" crushes in its duet with Alison Krauss, while Merle Haggard finds an excellent new phrasing for "I Fall to Pieces." Emmylou Harris breathes desperation into "Don't Touch Me," and Ray Benson provides levity with "I Don't Do Windows," but Ray Price and Johnson achieve revelation together on "You Wouldn't Know Love." Willie Nelson emerges on the B-side to anchor "Don't You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me," the collective "Everything But You" (with Vince Gill and Leon Russell), and the closing title track, also featuring Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, and recordings of Cochran himself. Impressive company, and Johnson earns his spot among them.

****

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