Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

Music
cover art

Jamey Johnson

Livin' for a Song – A Tribute to Hank Cochran

(Mercury Nashville; US: 16 Oct 2012; UK: 15 Oct 2012)

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. So now Jamey Johnson is not trying to make a big statement, not trying to do everything at once, but choosing one more leisure-time pursuit and having fun with it. Now, fun for Johnson is different than a lot of people’s fun, as evidenced by his live shows, which at the end often veer into a good hour-plus party set – that is, if your idea of a party is to play sad, old country songs at half-speed; each one sadder and slower than the one before. These sets, and much of The Guitar Song, play high tribute to not just country performers of the past but country songwriters of the past. Here he’s taken one of his favorites, Hank Cochran, and brought along a gang of fellow musicians to sing them with him. That group includes a lot of Johnson’s idols, from one generation (Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Bobby Bare, Leon Russell, etc) and the next (George Strait, Vince Gill, Ronnie Dunn), plus some singers always game for a duet (Allison Krauss, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris).


Johnson always has one eye on country’s past, and one song’s lyric here could be his credo: “it’s not healthy they say to relive yesterday / but for me it’s a way to survive.” Of course, the song itself is about love/heartbreak/regret, as are most of these songs. The songs themselves are rightly classics, articulating sad sentiments that are part of the lifeblood of country music: “I Fall to Pieces”, “Make the World Go Away”, “Love Makes a Fool of Us”. Women leave men, men are haunted or comforted by their memories, and then approach others with clever but sad come-ons (“Would These Arms Be In Your Way?”). When men aren’t sulking, they puff up their chests and present an image of been-around-the-block strength (“The Eagle”), or at least they try to do so, until they play the wrong song on the jukebox and crumble into tears (“A-11”).


The album is a classy, low-key affair, with solid, tasteful arrangements designed to show off the singers and the songs. Johnson sings this material as good as anyone, so no one shows him up really. A lot of the legends aren’t at their peak, really, though Ray Price shines as ever on “You Wouldn’t Know Love”, and on “I Fall to Pieces” Merle Haggard displays the same charming ease as on his recent work. It’s all very nice, though not surprising or revelatory. No one reinvents their song; no song reinvents duet singing as a practice; no one makes you think of Cochran or country music differently. The point is to get people thinking about Cochran, period, and to think of all these other stars and re-enjoy them and their music. On the final song, “Livin’ for a Song”, Cochran himself appears, with Kristofferson, Nelson, Haggard and Johnson, paying tribute to songwriting and the old-fashioned art of writing country songs like these – which ultimately is the point of this star-studded revue.

Rating:

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine ErasingClouds.com, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.


Media
Jamey Johnson & Alison Krauss - Make The World Go Away - David Letterman 10-12-12
Related Articles
13 Jan 2013
All of the albums that critics/fans who fancy themselves “pure” country defenders have praised as the best of 2012 carry a heavy aura of the past about them. But how much can country music progress if it’s spending all of its time looking back?
By Dave Heaton, Jedd Beaudoin, Josh Langhoff, Steve Leftridge
6 Dec 2012
In 2012, you could be forgiven for being dismissive of the country music genre entirely -- to a point. For as long as country exists as a genre, there will be songwriters who are devoted to embodying their own vision of what “country” means, which sometimes means pushing the genre around.
26 Jun 2011
The smell of chewing tobacco, and the sight of cowboy hats and cut-off jean shorts were enough to make even the most weathered cowboy say something along the lines of, “Well, my God, this is a party”.
17 Jan 2011
Of all 2010's country double albums that included Jamey Johnson songs, this was the second best.
Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.