After releasing Human: The Double Album in 2021, Cody Johnson is back with a leaner more traditional 12 track album in Leather. The rodeo cowboy certainly leans into “traditional” with his albums and that’s been part of what has made him so likable as he and producing partner Trent Willmon have built him into a successful mainstream country artist, one leading the return of traditional country music to the radio airwaves as the “bro-country” sound grew somewhat stale. There’s nothing “Bro” about Cody Johnson and there’s everything “Country” on Leather, even the soulful kiss-off “Jesus Loves You.”
While Cody’s uptempo gems are fantastic, he really shines on ballads where he can showcase his conversational storytelling vocals. “Whiskey Bent” is a song which features Jelly Roll and it is a smart pairing. If you don’t feel the lyrics of a song about a man getting his life together after getting off the bottle, well, then, you may not be human. “Leather” is another one where the ballad king shows his wares and it’s Cody Johnson to a T and the song itself is oh, so country with a capital C.
In an era of music making where most artists have to have a songwriting credit as another income stream for their career — even if they aren’t really songwriters — Cody Johnson refreshingly doesn’t record songs this way. Like country music used to be, he’s picking the best songs to make up his album and he’s more concerned with how the album works and what songs win for the overall vibe of the album. That means Leather features 12 songs, all from outside songwriters, George Strait style. If you look for songwriter credits on albums like I always have, then you’ll know several of the names here. “Long Live Country Music,” which features Brooks & Dunn, is one written by #1 hit songwriters Phil O’Donnell, Wade Kirby and Trent Willmon. “Leather” is written by #1 hit writers Rivers Rutherford, Jeremy Spillman and WMN label mate Ian Munsick (he’s also a country traditionalist) and other names like Brett Beavers, Clint Daniels, Wynn Varble, Jessi Alexander, Devin Dawson and Alan Shamblin show up in the track list.
Cody Johnson’s ear for great songs shows up on lead single “The Painter,” “Long Live Country Music,” “Whiskey Bent” and the closer, “Make Me A Mop.” This one has a song-of-the-year quality to it. The kind of song Allen Shamblin, Connie Harrington, and Jessi Alexander have both written before (“The House That Built Me” and “I Drive Your Truck,” respectively) and do so again here with the perfect singer to deliver the simple message, a prayer really, to leave an impact on someone and to feel alive to be useful for someone somewhere, somehow. Cody Johnson has become a nationwide star through sincere and honest songs like those found on Leather and we, as the music listening public, are eternally grateful he’s here for us.