Except for Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson, no other figure in country music has earned such widespread crossover appeal as has Johnny Cash. 'Johnny's Blues' breaks the mold of Blues tribute compilations, largely due to the fact that the songs of Johnny Cash have never been adapted in quite the manner as here. So it all ends up sounding fresh and vital--in ways the ten thousandth version of "Boom Boom" could never be.
Perhaps it has something to do with those early years with Sun Records, where Cash helped break down the walls between country, rockabilly, rhythm and blues---and even pop. In 1956, "I Walk The Line" would knock down those boundary lines faster than flying bowling pins. Garland Jeffreys pays homage to this glorious chestnut, while also updating it with some new Zydeco spicing.
One contributor whose voice most closely approximates the cavernous Cash baritone is Sleepy LaBeef, and this rockabilly legend---also known as "The Human Jukebox"--delivers a boisterous rendition of the good-natured "Frankie's Man Johnny".
Johnny's singular ability to impart his innermost feelings in a down-to-earth and earnest style stirs immediate empathy from the common man, which is precisely what the Blues seek to do. The very talented bluesman/harmonicist Paul Reddick understood that connection as well as anyone. What "Train of Love" might have sounded had Johnny hired Mississippi Fred McDowell as the guitar player for The Tennessee Three intrigued Reddick. My guess is pretty much like the cool version he's put together here, along with Colin Linden on dobro and Richard Bell on piano.
Maria Muldaur, assisted only on acoustic guitar by Del Rey, illuminates "Walkin' The Blues"---undoubtedly the purest blues Cash ever wrote. Chris Thomas King's "Rock Island Line" owed as much to Johnny's interpretation as it did to the Leadbelly original. Kevin Breit pulls off an exquisite instrumental of "Send A Picture of Mother"---complete with a mandolin orchestra. And with the recent passing of Johnny's wife, Mavis Staples' poignant reading of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" called to mind warm remembrances of June Carter Cash and Johnny sharing this treasured gospel standard on countless stages.
The lyrics of Johnny Cash are ultra-generous in their imagery of the American cultural and geographical landscape. Little surprise, therefore, that much of his repertoire is now central to the roots vocabulary. The steely resolve of Cash's lowdown vocals and his great storytelling abilities also re-invigorated the western part of country and western. Countless songs have attempted to impart the grandeur of the Mississippi River, yet "Big River" is unchallenged in conveying the force of that fabled waterway. Producer Colin Linden expertly captures a saga full of wanderlust and discovery, a backdrop to its main theme of unrequited love. Johnny also authored one of the greatest prison songs ever, "Fulsom Prison Blues," and Blackie & The Rodeo Kings (Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing, and Tom Wilson) let loose on a rockin' version..
Alvin Youngblood Hart's take on "Sunday Morning Coming Down" is the essence of simplicity, and his brooding tone is eerily reminiscent of the darker side of Cash, reminding us just how closely Johnny's full-throated quivering vocals are in sync with the delta blues masters. Corey Hart propels 'Redemption' to the sharpest point of the cutting edge by embellishing it with it a Rastafarian vibe. Timeless and totally enchanting! Harry Manx---the master of the Indian/Blues hybrid---is absolutely riveting in capturing the ominous realization that stands at the heart of "Long Black Veil".
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown-a legendary figure like Cash-turns "Get Rhythm" into a swing and boogie tour de force. Gatemouth shares the vocals with Benjy Davis, but it's Brown's guitar runs--so similar to "Okie Dokie Stomp"--that put the icing on the cake.
The performances, arrangements, and inventiveness are strictly of the highest order throughout 'Johnny's Blues'. The distressing news is that Johnny Cash has been battered by a series of debilitating personal and health setbacks. We need to hope that the special blessing of 'Johnny's Blues' somehow lifts the energy and spirit of The Man In Black.
Ordering Details: www.northernblues.com
Your purchase through this Amazon.com link helps to support this website.
Simply click on the cover at left to order this CD NOW!
"This review is copyright © 2003 by Gary Tate, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without permission."
Copyright reuse notice: If you would like to reprint or use this review please include the above copyright notice, contained within the quotation marks, PLUS this statement: "Used with permission." Then send an email to Ray at: firstname.lastname@example.org indicating how you are using the review or the website page address it will be appearing on. Thanks!
You can help support this blues website by making a contribution (click on the banner below for details).
Or mail a donation to: Ray Stiles % Blues On Stage, PO Box 582983, Mpls, MN 55458. Thanks!
Web Design SPECIAL, get your own website for just $50.
Web Hosting & Design:
Web Hosting & Design.
Most affordable web hosting and design services available.
Find out how you can host your current site at Blues On Stage, or how I can help you design your own website!
If you would like your CD reviewed, please send TWO (2) copies, along with promotional material to:
Blues On Stage
PO Box 582983
Minneapolis, MN 55458-2983
E-mail Ray Stiles @ email@example.com with any questions.