Tag Archives: Johnny Cash

255. Drive-By Truckers – “Dirty South”

This is the first album I have reviewed thus far that I only own in download form.

drive-by truckers album cover the-dirty-southThat seems rather inappropriate somehow, as these guys seem a long way removed from anything digital and new-fangled. This is rootsy Southern rock of the highest order.

This particular album is a thematically consistent collection.  All the tracks tell tales of life down South, with a strong emphasis on the seedy and downtrodden.  The trio of tracks about various crims dealing with a Sheriff of some renown (The Boys From Alabama, Cottonseed, and The Buford Stick all about Buford Pusser) are particularly captivating.

The band is happy to name-check prominent Southerners. Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and  Sam Phillips all get a run.

This some wonderful hybrid of Springsteen and Earle in terms of story-weaving, with a sleazy, bar-room feel to the triple guitar backing. The vitriol on PuttinPeople on the Moon would do either aforementioned artists proud:

The one ‘happy’ tune on here, about the joys of car-racing (Daddy’s Cup) almost gets me craving a steering wheel.

It is unforgivable that I am yet to catch these guys live.

File under: Dirty but Beautiful South

222. Depeche Mode – “Violator”

This is the third and most recent record I own from the Depeche boys.

Certainly, compared to the other non-compilation in my collection, this is the winner. It is a considerably warmer album and the sound is considerably more contemporary.

Now, I must qualify the weather report there. I should really say it is less cold. There is a still the distancing electronic approach and Gahan’s vocal style is still a little too affected for my liking.

Nevertheless, the band is more direct and emotive in their songwriting, and less prone to the vaguely Austrian lock-your-daughter-in-the-cellar imagery.

There are some standout tracks on here. Enjoy the Silence was a well-chosen single, and a track that would have fitted very well into the repertoire of New Order in their later years (that’s a compliment). DM do lose a little credit for that last gasp repeat of the chorus and the tinkle right at the end (I’m being fussy today).

Sweetest Perfection gets the balance right between overwrought and engaging. And Personal Jesus was good enough for Johnny Cash… and bares up well in the compare and contrast stakes (I’m ignoring M.Manson’s version, as I have much of his career):


File under: Don’t be a vile hater

207. De La Soul – “3 Feet High and Rising”

Here’s a record (yes, it’s on vinyl) that still gets pretty regular spins in my house, despite me owning it for almost 20 years.

Album Cover De La Soul 3 Feet High and RisingThis debut release justifiably continues to win kudos as a breakthrough album in the hip-hop domain.  I distinctly remember the British indie-music papers wetting themselves with delight when this popped out back in 1989. I fell for the nursery rhyming very quickly.

There was (and is) so much to love on this album.  Samples from all over the musical landscape (including the Johnny Cash lyric album title), warm almost-sung raps, skits that don’t tire with repetition, a mention of Australia… it’s great stuff.

I am so damn familiar with this album, I find it hard to imagine not having heard it.  It’s hip hop but not as we typically think about it.  The groove is much funkier.  The vibe is more love-filled than anger-driven. There are flights of fancy George Clinton would be proud of.

There is a lot of silliness on this record.  Some tracks are just a bunch of fun samples or riffs about your friends smelling funny. But that just serves to connect the epics (Magic Number, Jenifa…, Ghetto Thang, Eye Know and about 7 others!).

I found this on Youtube (the press video they put together at the time, and which I taped off Rage way back then):

It captures some of the magic.

File under: A giant release

163. Ray Charles – “Genius Loves Company”

Oh dear.  Another CD that I had nothing to with purchasing.  It seems my wife doesn’t stray far from the “C” box in the music store.

Album Cover Ray Charles Genius Loves Company Comapny

And after 162 reviews, I’ve found an album that genuinely pisses me off.  Several CDs have disappointed me with substandard songs, poor recording quality, or just shattered memories.  Others have bored me.  This one actually makes me angry.

Here we find supposed legend Ray hooking up with a succession of collaborators to duet on alleged classics from the much vaunted American Songbook

Artists such as Johnny Cash have sought out challenging tunes and off-kilter alliances. Charles has simply grabbed the ‘usual suspects’ (Norah Jones, Elton John, Michael McDonald, Willie Nelson). 

The result is nauseating.  One muzak reworking after another.  Every cliche gets thrown into the mix. This is the album I’ve most wanted to ‘skip track’ through.

There is so little to like on here.  His number with B.B.King is almost palatable. 

But, this is pretty much everything that is wrong with adult-oriented, self-reverential, industry-grandising corporate music.  There is no soul, no heart, no sincerity to all this.  Take it away please.

Scarily (but not surprisingly) this last-ever release from Charles picked up a wheelbarrow load of Grammys – a sad indictment of all I lambasted in the preceding paragraph.

File under: Worse than Joanie Loves Chachi

140. Johnny Cash – “American III – Solitary Man”

I have been decidedly useless in my reviewing over the past week.  Upon landing in the US, I have been much more focused on drinking exotic microbrews and sightseeing, plus one gig thus far (Ben Kweller in San Fran).  I did visit Alcatraz prison, which I feel may have brought me closer to Johnny Cash’s life experiences (as might my many encounters with the chemically dependent on SF streets).

Cash johnny cash American III Solitary Man album coverAt various periods in our travels I did manage to crank up this album on the iPod, and each time it delighted.  It is truly guilt-free easy listening.  It’s like having a super-groovy, intimidating grand-dad whose found your CD collection and decided to learn various standout tunes.

So here he goes, nailing Nick Cave’s best ever tune (Mercy Seat) and showing Will Oldham how to sing in tune (I See a Darkness).  He even ropes Will to sing backup.

This album is more consistent and captivating than Unchained and sees Cash sneaking in a few more traditional tunes and one of his old gems (Country Trash).  The title track is pure gold, pushing Neil Diamond’s lyrics to a whole new level of cool.

File under: A Man of Might

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