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Touch My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck (Sugar Hill Records)

To most of us, Johnny Paycheck was the guy who sang "Take This Job and Shove It." While it's true that his monster-hit version of David Allen Coe's classic completely smashed the boundaries of country music to enter the American lexicon, Paycheck was also one of the most nuanced singers and songwriters in an era when such things were valued in country.

Touch My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck is a rare beast, a tribute compilation without a single misstep. The lineup seems perfect in every way. Producer Robbie Fulks pulled in Paycheck peers George Jones and Johnny Bush; younger country artists Jim Lauderdale and Dallas Wayne; soul icon Mavis Staples; pop legends Al Anderson, Marshall Crenshaw and Jeff Tweedy; bluegrass stars Billy Yates and Larry Cordle; and alt-country heroes Neko Case, Bobby Bare Jr. and Mike Ireland, to name a few.

Most people listening to this record will be discovering these songs for the first time. Prepare to have your breath taken away sixteen times. Neko Case nails the exuberant determination to succeed at failure in "If I'm Gonna Sink (I Might as Well Go to the Bottom)." Dave Alvin captures the defiance of a man in prison with "11 Months and 29 Days." George Jones practically begs every man in the world to leave his woman alone because "She's All I Got."

The two most amazing songs on an album with no wrong turns come from different sides of the musical fence. Dallas Wayne fits perfectly in the Paycheck tradition of pure honky-tonk. His version of "I Did the Right Thing" is chilling, capturing all the pain of a man who returns to his wife after an affair because it is what society expects of him. Two songs later, Mavis Staples devastates with "Touch My Heart," a Paycheck original that almost certainly didn't sound quite so bluesy before she got to it. When you hear the sorrow that permeates this track, mixed with the belief that this sorrow makes life seem worthwhile, you'll know immediately why they named the album after it.

 
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