Hank Cochran

The Heart of Hank: The Monument Sessions

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Hank Cochran's fame is built on songs he wrote but others recorded, including "I Fall to Pieces" (Patsy Cline), "A-11" (Johnny Paycheck), "Little Bitty Tear" (Burl Ives), "Make the World Go Away" (Eddy Arnold), and "She's Got You" (Patsy Cline). After establishing himself as a hitmaking songwriter in the early '60s, Cochran launched a low-key solo career, cutting a few sides for the Monument subsidiary Gaylord in late 1962 and 1963 and then a session for Monument proper on New Years Eve 1966. These sessions were collected on the 1968 LP The Heart of Hank Cochran, which was largely culled from the 1966 date. That album, along with three stray songs from 1963, was reissued in June of 2005 by Koch as The Heart of Hank: The Monument Sessions, which represents the entirety (or at least the known entirety) of his music for the label. Although the 1968 LP almost broke into Billboard's Top 40 country album chart, none of the singles were hits, and the music remained out of print until this 2005 release. As good as this music is, it's also easy to see why it's been underappreciated: it's country for connoisseurs, expertly executed within the confines of its genre, yet its pleasures are so subtle that only devotees of hardcore country will be able to easily discern them. Cochran has a smooth, easy voice -- a gentler version of either Merle Haggard or Tompall Glaser -- and his music is straight-ahead honky tonk with the occasional pop flair (such as the horns on "When You Gotta Go 'You Gotta Go'"); it's a generic sound, but in the best possible way, since it's professionals doing what they do best, and the Fred Foster productions are warm and resonant, ideal for both AM radios and jukeboxes. Cochran didn't reserve his very best songs for his solo recording sessions -- in fact, two of the standout songs here are by other writers (Haggard's "All of Me Belongs to You" and Harlan Howard's "Tootsie's Orchid Lounge"), but these covers illustrate that Cochran is a relaxed but assured, engaging singer -- and while none of these songs on The Heart of Hank is among his very best, they are nevertheless sturdy, memorable '60s country. And that pretty much sums up the collection as a whole: it's not the very best of its kind, but any listener with affection for pure '60s country will not only find this enjoyable, but will find himself returning to this very likeable collection again and again.

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