Album - Cody Johnson - Leather
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‘Leather’ by Cody Johnson - Lyrics & Meaning

November 3, 2023 12:01 am GMT
Last Edited December 18, 2023 9:35 pm GMT

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Cody Johnson - ‘Leather’

Label: CoJo Music / Warner Music Nashville

Release Date: November 3rd 2023

Album: Leather

Producers: Trent Willmon

Songwriters: Ian Munsick, Rivers Rutherford & Jeremy Spillman

The Background:

As soon as Cody Johnson revealed the title and the artwork for his 2023 album, Leather, it was evident this would a project celebrating the diligent, blue-collar workers, cowboys, cowgirls and ranch-hands that have always inspired much of CoJo's music.

The album cover, which features a zoomed-in photo of Cody Johnson's knuckles, with the picture being taken following a long day of “castrating bulls and giving them shots” at the family farm, with work having started, as usual, at the crack of dawn.

It's the fact that Cody Johnson lives the life he so often sings about that brings a sense of legitimacy and authenticity to his music, something many other artists struggle to engender.

The title-track for Leather epitomises this, with Cody Johnson crooning warmly about the unique strength and reliability of cowboys. The moving song is the keystone of the new project, with ‘Leather’ having been spawned from the pen of CoJo's label-mate, Ian Munsick, alongside Rivers Rutherford and Jeremy Spillman, while on tour together.

The Sound:

‘Leather’ finds Cody Johnson stripping back the high-octane, hard-hitting vocals that light up anthems such as ‘Til You Can't’ and ‘Me and My Kind’, with the Texan instead keeping his delivery drawn-in and intricate to match the intimacy of the track's lyrics.

The classic Western fusion of a yearning fiddle and a soothing, easygoing guitar feels reminiscent of the neo-traditional sound that pervades Munsick's acclaimed 2023 album, White Buffalo.

‘Leather’ also includes a haunting but atypical yodel from Cody Johnson towards the end of the track. The singer-songwriter confessed he was tempted to scrap this element, but was (thankfully) talked round by his producer, Trent Willmon.

The Meaning:

“Superman, Man of Steel

He can fly but here’s the deal

Superman ain’t really real

So God made something better”

Cody Johnson begins by referencing how Superman is often framed as the most revered role model in the USA, before outlining how a much more suitable - and much more realistic - figure that Americans should look up to is a good old-fashioned cowboy.

Within this verse, we get a colourful contrast between Superman being a Man of Steel, while a cowboy is portrayed as a Man of Leather. Although a traditionally less glamorous material, real leather is also generally expensive and valuable.

“Cause Mama says he’s just flesh and bone

The girls say he’s a rolling stone

But shake his hand and then you’ll know

A cowboy’s made of leather”

CoJo describes how cowboys’ hands feel leathery and tough, due to the long hours they spent each day doing hard, manual work. He utilises this fact as a symbol of the cowboy's resilience and unbreakable nature, despite all the challenges thrown their way.

“You can bend him but you can’t break him

It takes years of working dirt and hurt to make him

When the whole world falls apart, he’ll hold together

That’s how you know that a cowboy’s made of leather”

Even when everything else is going wrong and people need someone dependable to turn to, Cody Johnson outlines that cowboys will never let you down - just as leather is famously sturdy.

“He’ll kick and cuss in broad daylight

When he gets drunk he likes to fight

But his head’s on straight and his heart gets right

When he’s under pressure”

In the second half of ‘Leather’, Cody Johnson details a few of the less favourable qualities of cowboys, as he showcases how they love to drink and are often a little rough around the edges.

Despite their rowdiness and unruly tendencies, CoJo praises his fellow cowboys for always being commanding leaders and the kind of folks you want nearby in a time of crisis.

“He’ll start out stiff and rough

But give him time and he’ll soften up

And that just makes him twice as tough

Yeah a cowboy’s made of leather”

Extending the ‘Leather’ metaphor, Cody Johnson lovingly sings about how, particularly in a relationship, cowboys might come across as stand-offish and coarse at first.

However, if you give them a chance and really get to know them, CoJo reassures listeners that they'll soon reveal their more vulnerable and gentler side. Endearingly, Cody Johnson underlines that this softness is not a sign of weakness - it's a sign of toughness.

What has Cody Johnson said about ‘Leather’?

Speaking to Billboard prior to the release of Leather, Cody Johnson shared some details about the moment he first heard what would ultimately become the project's title-track, “My jaw dropped. Everything about a cowboy has to do with leather, so lines about it taking ‘Years of work and dirt and hurt to make him,’ or ‘He’ll start out stiff and rough, but give him time and he’ll soften up / And that just makes him twice as tough’… It is so well-written. It also has this cool yodel thing; I almost took that out, but Trent said, ‘You have to do that. That’s cowboy’”.

For the full lyrics to Cody Johnson's ‘Leather’, see below:

“Superman, Man of Steel

He can fly but here’s the deal

Superman ain’t really real

So God made something better

Cause Mama says he’s just flesh and bone

The girls say he’s a rolling stone

But shake his hand and then you’ll know

A cowboy’s made of leather

You can bend him but you can’t break him

It takes years of working dirt and hurt to make him

When the whole world falls apart, he’ll hold together

That’s how you know that a cowboy’s made of leather

He’ll kick and cuss in broad daylight

When he gets drunk he likes to fight

But his head’s on straight and his heart gets right

When he’s under pressure

He’ll start out stiff and rough

But give him time and he’ll soften up

And that just makes him twice as tough

Yeah a cowboy’s made of leather

‘Cause you can bend him but you can’t break him

It takes years of working dirt and hurt to make him

And when the whole world falls apart, he’ll hold together

That’s how you know that a cowboy’s made of leather

Yippee ki Oh

Yippee ki Yay

Yippee ki Oh

Yipee Ki Oh

Yippee ki Yay

Yippee Ti i oh

You can bend him but you can’t break him

It takes years of working dirt and hurt to make him

When the whole world falls apart, he’ll hold together

That’s how you know that a cowboy’s made of leather

Yeah that’s how you know that a cowboy’s made of leather”

For more on Cody Johnson, see below:

Written by Maxim Mower
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