Daily Archives: June 12, 2009

Off on tour

My bags are packed, as is my iPod, and I’m off to the US of A for a month.  As such, my blog posts are likely to be pretty sporadic.  Rest assured I will be listening to the prescribed albums and will post reviews when I get the chance/inkling.

Please be patient… and take this chance to catch up on your backlog of reviews (and you’re own CD listening).

139. Johnny Cash – “Unchained”

So, as most of you probablky now, Cash had a huge revival when paired with rap and heavy metal impresario Rick Rubin for American Recordings. This was the follow up when Cash was joined by Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers as backing band.

Cash johnny cash unchained album coverThis is a curious effort.  Cash’s standout features – his voice and laconic but heartfelt delivery – are certainly on display.  So too, are the slightly quirky song choices, most notably his cover of Soundgarden‘s Rusty Cage.

But, it all sounds a little too easy.  He isn’t pushed to deliver anything challenging, and he doesn’t surprise quite enough.  There are  a few too many twee song choices too, especially the always corny I’ve Been Everywhere.

This is certainly not my ‘go to’ Cash CD.  I do smirk a little at his somewhat misogynistic Mean Eyed Cat and sing along to the bass vocals on I Never Picked Cotton. Country Boy is a fantastically paced track where the band is used very effectively. Likewise, I’m certain Southern Accent will spring to mind once or twice on my impending US travels.

Cash would do better than this album, but a lot of bands wouldn’t.

File under: Could be more unfettered

138. Johnny Cash – “The Essential Johnny Cash”

My blogging buddy over at 500 Songs in 500 Days, last week described J.Cash as “the substance-abusing, suicidal father of country music”.

Cash album the essential johnny cash coverI’ve seen the biopic and read the books and articles that chronicle this dimension of the Man in Black’s rocky life. Such understandings invariably inform any review of his life’s work.

This here double album attempts to capture what probably looked at the time like being the highlights of his long career (i.e. this was before his Lazarus-like late-life revival).

What the album reveals is the paradoxes of his output. At times, he seems to be following closely in the footsteps of Hank Williams (Snr) and even Woodie Guthrie as he captures the essence of rural, working class US life. He treads well-worn paths talking up the value of poverty in shaping men, while lamenting the tribulations thereof.

Other times he’s more explicitly on the side of the badman, the outlaw and the outsider as he takes on the man and all else beside. These are perhaps his biggest legacy, although one can’t help but think certain songs have been eulogised far beyond their actual quality justifies.

Ultimately, Cash was also a hitmaker, willing to tiptoe the line between classic catchiness and complete schmaltz. Ring of Fire and Jackson falls on the classic side. Ballad Of A Teenage Queen is unashamed in its campness.

The latter is still very loveable, and I quite happily smirk along at his funnier moments like Boy Named Sue, Five Feet High and Rising and his super-hillbilly Tennessee Flat-Top Box.

I used to own a different single-CD greatest hits package from Cash (which was lost in an unfortunate leaving CD in a computer incident which I won’t bore you with). That was a more pleasurable listen for not including a lot of filler at the tail end of this, where Cash resorted to awkward collaborations and god-bothering numbers.

Nevertheless, this ain’t a bad way to survey the first 40 years or so of his career.

File under: Cash pretty well spent