Jamey Johnson’s Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran directly follows the country singer/songwriter’s expansive 2010 two-disc set, The Guitar Song with a tribute to one of the masters of the heartsick love ballad. Cochran is most famous for penning Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces,” and Johnson’s reverent tribute album is evidence that Cochran’s pained honky-tonk ruminations continue to resonate with broken hearts everywhere.
Stylistically, these duet interpretations opt for respect over reinvention. The arrangements resemble the kind of old ’60s country record you might find at a yard sale, full of weepy pedal steel, honky-tonk piano and understated drums. The album peaks when emotions reach a boiling point: You’ll swear Emmylou Harris is crying, the way she delivers her vocal take “Don’t Touch Me.” The same can be said of Alison Krauss, who very nearly sobs her way through “Make the World Go Away.” Maybe he’s just playing the polite host, but Johnson doesn’t come off quite as convincingly heartbroken: Even that old codger, Bobby Bare shows him up during “I’d Fight the World” – especially on its tragically-voiced spoken word section. Nevertheless, Johnson’s good taste and the album’s stellar cast is enough to make Living For A Song a worthy remembrance.