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Jamey Johnson

Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran – 2012 (Mercury)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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CDs by Jamey Johnson

When ace country songwriter Hank Cochran died in the summer of 2010 it didn't take long to establish who could pull off a fitting tribute to the man who penned timeless classics like Eddy Arnold's Make the World Go Away and Patsy Cline's I Fall to Pieces. Country outlaw Jamey Johnson, who had bonded with Cochran during his final years battling pancreatic cancer, stepped up to the challenge. And boy, has he delivered.

Rounding up the likes of Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, Merle Haggard, Elvis Costello, Ronnie Dunn and George Strait - just to name a few - Johnson freshens every cut yet treats them with a reverence fitting some of the best-known country songs of all time.

Emmylou Harris joins Johnson on the bluesy Jeannie Seely hit Don't Touch Me, while he and Krauss are stone '60s country gold with their electric take on Make the World Go Away. Asleep at the Wheel joins Johnson for I Don't Do Windows and Dunn's duet on A-11 stirs plenty of sawdust off the honky tonk dance floor.

Yet it's the obscure Living for a Song, where Johnson and the weathered trio of Willie, Merle and Kris Kristofferson sing around their longtime pal Cochran's own weary voice, that Cochran's legacy hits home. There's nothing sentimental, sappy or nostalgic; it's a bunch of friends - albeit country legends - singing together one last time.

Bobby Bare, who reprises his Cochran hit of the early 1960s I'd Fight the World, sums up Cochran's writing as simple, because "he didn't know any big words. He wrote strictly from emotion and that's what I love." It's a lesson that Johnson's taken to heart in his career. With this album perhaps others will too.