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Cody Johnson

Ain't Nothin' To It – 2019 (Cojo/Warner)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by Cody Johnson

It's not always easy to put your finger on why a particular artist moves you emotionally. It can be due to smart, Elvis Costello-like wordplay, or Vince Gill-esque instrumental greatness. Cody Johnson's "Ain't Nothin' To It" doesn't always shine with exemplary poetic couplets, nor striking musicianship. This is not to say the lyrics and music aren't bad, either. No, it's just that Johnson's authentic country voice is ultimately what makes the first and lasting impression with this new work.

Thankfully, Johnson doesn't attempt to sing in a crossover Sam Hunt/Kane Brown R&B style; when he sings about "Where Cowboys Are King," he sounds unmistakably like a cowboy with his thick Texas accent. These lyrics may not be memorable in the way so many of Merle Haggard's are, but Johnson nevertheless sings about subjects that resonate memorably. The title track, for instance, gives out marriage advice that's relevant, not preachy. Speaking of The Hag, though, "Monday Morning Merle" pairs each day of the week with a specific artist -- like the perfect Spotify playlist recommendation.

Johnson includes a few notable cover songs here. Charlie Daniels' "Long Haired Country Boy" lets Johnson kick out the rowdy country jam. "Husbands and Wives," which captures Johnson's best singing on the album, is a reminder that Roger Miller could write sensitive songs, just as well as the silly ones.

Johnson closes with "His Name Is Jesus." Thus, he ends this project on a spiritual note, much the way Brad Paisley often does. This track is a church-quiet ballad, with little more than fiddle and acoustic guitar. Johnson is vocal about his Christian faith whenever he performs live, which makes this praise song to Jesus ring true and sincere.

It's likely Johnson would sound just as country, even with all the usual mainstream rocking instrumental elements. Fortunately, he keeps it mainly traditional throughout. Johnson may sound like there ain't nothing to what he does musically, but let's be clear here: a whole lot of good stuff went into creating this strong album.