Album Review – Cody Johnson’s “Leather”

photo: Chris Douglas

You hate to see a country artist from Texas who was convicted in their principles, kept their music country, insisted on cutting good songs despite the financial implications, was authentic to themselves and their roots, and stuck to their guns no matter what was dangled in front of them, ultimately run off to Nashville and sign with some major label, and immediately begin to sell out.

Well Cody Johnson’s not that guy. On his third album for Warner Music Nashville, Cody doubles down on his country roots if anything, strengthens his commitment to quality songs, and even refines his sound with surprising sparsity and depth to the point where you’re nearly stunned at some of the results. Yes this is a big mainstream country release, but many of these songs cut you like the songs of your favorite singer/songwriters.

Cody Johnson didn’t write or co-write any of the songs on the new album Leather. But similar to the stanch traditionalists that came before him like George Strait and Mark Chesnutt, Johnson knows his strengths are in selecting great songs, and singing them with conviction as opposed to trying to do everything himself. Johnson’s ear for a great song is especially in tune on Leather, presenting one great song after another that reminds you why you’re a country fan.

Leather is a great mix of boisterous tracks to seed his live shows with energetic moments such as the super country “That’s Texas” and the arena pleaser “People in the Back,” interspersed with cutting heartbreak songs like the well-written “Watching My Old Flame,” or the introspective “Whiskey Bent” with Jelly Roll. “The Painter,” “Leather,” “Make Me a Mop” all show surprising depth even for Cody, and incredible restraint in how they’re rendered.

Give a slow clap to producer Trent Wilmon for this one. He really challenged Cody, and Cody challenges his audience to not just hear his new songs, but listen to them intently. Sure, some of the songs like “Dirt Cheap” about not selling the family farm is ground that’s been plowed a few times before. But Cody established via the success of his award-winning single “Til You Can’t” that he can take audiences a little deeper, and they will follow him en masse.

Even when you get to Cody’s collaboration with Brooks & Dunn called “Long Live Country Music,” you almost don’t mind the list-tastic writing of the track as much as you would in other circumstances. Since it’s only one song, you can let it slide. It’s the albums of many of Cody’s mainstream contemporaries where list songs are all you hear when it gets to be too much.

The one misstep is the song “Jesus Loves You.” Instead of being an opportunity to forward the true teachings of Christ about forgiveness, this song turns into a strange revenge fantasy about someone who regrets not shooting an intruder into their house. Written by HARDY who loves to write these kinds of songs like “Wait In The Truck” that glorify a distorted view of vigilante justice, this song comes across half cocked. Let’s not forget that Jesus was crucified between two thieves.

Nonetheless, there is lots to love about Cody Johnson’s Leather, and it pushes country music even further in the direction of quality songs and country-sounding arrangements. Cody doesn’t get enough credit for being on the cutting edge of helping to push the mainstream in a positive direction. But it is due to his success with country-sounding songs that other major label stars have been allowed to cut them as well. Now that everyone’s leaning more country, Cody Johnson has to lean country even more. That’s not a bad thing.

1 3/4 Guns Up

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Purchase Cody Johnson’s Leather

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