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Album Review: Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran by Jamey Johnson
Great, Based on 8 Critics
Rolling Stone - 100 Based on rating 5/5
Hank Cochran, who died at age 74 in 2010, wrote country ballads so perfectly shaped and cadenced you hardly believe they were written at all. Jamey Johnson's tribute record enlists an amazing intergenerational all-star team (Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, Elvis Costello), who join Johnson in traditionalist renditions of 16 Cochran classics, from the Patsy Cline favorite "I Fall to Pieces" to the heart-wrenching "Make the World Go Away." It's loving genuflection; it's also proof that Johnson, 21st-century country's outlaw ne plus ultra, is also one of its most sensitive balladeers – beneath the scary beard, he's an old softie. Preview Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran: .
During the last couple of years of his life, legendary songwriter Hank Cochran served as both a professional mentor and a close personal friend to acclaimed country artist Jamey Johnson. That deep connection informs every aspect of Living for a Song, the reverent tribute album Johnson has recorded for the late songwriter. Johnson and the small army of country stars he’s enlisted to collaborate on the project all wisely keep the focus on Cochran’s extraordinary songwriting, making for an album that highlights the depth and range of Cochran’s catalogue and the monumental influence his writing has had on country music.
As a rule, tribute recordings are a mixed bag; they tend to be well-intentioned yet fall short of the mark musically. Jamey Johnson's Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran is a risky offering because it's his follow-up to 2010's Grammy-nominated, gold-selling Guitar Song. Here he assembles 16 tracks with a slew of guests to sing with him. Johnson's connection to Cochran -- a legendary songwriter who passed in 2010 -- was personal and professional; all artists appearing here either knew the man or recorded his songs.
Hank Cochran’s life was like a country song: He toiled away in orphanages and oil fields before making it as a singer-songwriter. And Nashville outlaw Johnson captures that hardscrabble romanticism on these Cochran covers, especially the slow-burning duets ”Don’t Touch Me” (with Emmylou Harris) and ”Make the World Go Away” (with Alison Krauss). Johnson occasionally lacks the depth of Cochran’s bloodshot despair, but with guests like Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard, you can’t blame him for not sounding sad in Living for a Song.
Born in rural Mississippi during the Great Depression, raised in an orphanage in Memphis, and traveling the West as an itinerant worker in his teens, Hank Cochran was an unlikely country music legend. Once he finally settled in Nashville and took a songwriting gig at Ray Price’s Pamper Music publishing firm, Cochran penned huge hits for Patsy Cline, Burl Ives, Eddy Arnold, and too many others to list. He’s also responsible for wrangling a job for his friend and frequent collaborator Willie Nelson.
It seems an inevitable arc: the more one album swells with ambition, the more the next will either try to outdo it or take refuge in an opposite place. When you hit your most ambitious, even overblown point, your next album will be a modest affair; you can almost bet on it. This is that modest affair, coming after the two-cd The Guitar Song, which took the solitary-man-playing-lonely-music theme of That Lonesome Song and blew it up to widescreen.
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.
Jamey Johnson From a distance you’d be right to cast a wary eye toward “Livin’ for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran,” which comes with a classic repertory, a nostalgic premise and the guest register of a Nashville gala. Up close the album seems nobly intentioned, and practically hand sewn ….