Honky-tonk traditionalist Jamey Johnson isn’t looking for a quick score. He doesn’t do many interviews, and the follow-up to his breakthrough break-up album, That Lonesome Song, was a double album, 2010’s terrific The Guitar Song. Even Johnson’s new tribute album, Living For A Song, reflects his maverick cocksure ways: Hank Cochran, who died in 2010, was a fine songwriter, but no Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, or even Jimmy Webb. Still, Johnson understands that old-fashioned is synonymous with timeless, and this album indicates that he clearly intends to be here for a while. In truth, the record is a tribute to more than Cochran, as Johnson brings in a Hall Of Fame lineup of collaborators, including Nelson, Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Ronnie Dunn, Elvis Costello, and Leon Russell. Johnson’s buttery baritone plays nice with others, and he not only shares the mic, but graciously defers, resulting in all-star appearances that are more than perfunctory.
Johnson’s prior allegiance to spare, hardcore honky-tonk and outlaw country broadens to embrace the countrypolitan on several tunes. He joins Ray Price on the pretty string-laden ballad “You Wouldn’t Know Love,” the ever-evocative Nelson on the sweet, plaintive “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me,” and Alison Krauss for the album-opening duet, “Make The World Go Away.” In his most striking effort, Johnson pairs with Haggard for a jazzy take on “I Fall To Pieces.”
It’s the uptempo tunes that stand out the most, though. For its brashness, there isn’t a better barroom strut than Johnson’s take on “The Eagle” with George Strait. Though marred by late-song conversation vamps, Asleep At The Wheel’s line-drawing two-step duet “I Don’t Do Windows” is particularly catchy, and Lee Ann Womack is the perfect spunky counterpoint for the humorous breakup ode “This Ain’t My First Rodeo.” The arrangements are warm and understated while the performances fill the room, making Living For A Song a steady grower that sneaks up behind listeners and pickpockets their hearts.