Archive for February, 2013

Sound of Johnny CashOne would expect an album entitled The Sound of Johnny Cash to, well, sound like Johnny Cash. Come 1962, however, it was increasingly difficult to define that sound. On Sun records in the late ‘50s, Johnny had a distinct sound. It was part country, part rockabilly, and all Cash. Guitarist Luther Perkins was no Chet Atkins or even Scotty Moore, and yet, despite technical limitations, built a distinctive rockabilly influenced-style. During the verses he would usually tick-tock back and forth between the root and the fifth, and in the breaks he would either play a simple chord-based chime in the upper register, or a twangy riff low down on the E and A strings (Rock Island Line and Folsom Prison Blues are both fabulous examples wherein he does both in one solo). On bass, Marshall Grant would generally underpin Luther’s tick-tock. Their producer, Sam Phillips, forbade drums, so Cash himself took an interesting approach to acoustic-based rhythm playing. Rather than using bluegrass or delta blues-style fingerpicking, he shoved a heavy piece of paper between the strings and the fretboard, further muted the strings with his left hand, and used his right hand to rake across the strings, giving a percussive clickety-clack. The result was a never-before-heard minimalist approach to country born of necessity: Boom-chicka-boom. The “booms” were Marshall and Luther, the “chicka” was Cash essentially playing drums on his guitar. Add to that Johnny’s lonesome, moaning baritone and you had absolute magic.

Less than 4 years into his Columbia contract, however, the “sound of Johnny Cash” had diversified significantly. His interest in the history of the south, led him to explore new sounds, including bluegrass on “Papa Played the Dobro,” or Civil War-era marching bands in “The Big Battle”. The addition of touring mate Johnny Western into the recording studio brought more complex acoustic guitar arrangements into the mix (see Tennessee Flat-Top Box). Not surprisingly, with big studios and big label budgets, the arrangements became grandiose and over-the-top, too (Girl from Saskatoon anyone?). Most recently, he had released Hymns from the Heart, which apart from Cash’s voice, and one song featuring the newly expanded Tennesee Three (with WS Holland on drums), was entirely lacking the “sound of Johnny Cash.”

One would expect, then, that The Sound of Johnny Cash to be a deliberate return to form. The question is: is it? Opening tune Lost on the Desert, driven by a booming 12-string acoustic guitar, would lead one to believe that, no, Cash has continued to pursue more mainstream trends, this time the popular folk sounds of groups like the Kingston Trio. As the album progresses, though, Lost is seen to be a red herring. What unfolds over 11 more tracks is a return to the boom-chicka-boom sound.

The album themes are familiar, notably the high proportion of breakup tunes. Accidently on Purpose is a waltz where Johnny’s lover marries another; I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know tells a similar story, this time with bar-room piano leading the way; and Let Me Down Easy and Mr. Lonesome are exactly what their titles suggest. The highlight might be You Won’t Have Far To Go, which exemplifies Cash’s minimalism, offering a scant verse, chorus, a guitar riff (hardly long enough to be deemed a solo), and a repeat of the chorus. In it, a gambling man laments his greatest loss:

Love’s a gamble and I’m a gamblin’ man I’ve done everything to make you understand But the odds are high and luck is running low Look for me you won’t have far to go

Elsewhere, Cash returns to his familiar motif of life in the south. Lost in the Desert is yet another tale of death in the desert (see Hank and Joe and Me on Songs of Our Soil). Meanwhile, Leadbelly’s In Them Old Cottonfields Back Home, is a more comforting tale of a mother’s life in the midst of a hard sharecropper’s life (see Suppertime and Are All The Children In).

What is interesting about this album, though, is that it doesn’t just remind us of the sound of Johnny’s past, instead it points the way forward to the future, even serving as a template for his ultimate Man in Black persona. This is notable first in the three crime tales. The first, Jimmie Rodgers’ In the Jailhouse Now (later made famous in O Brother Where Art Thou?), is a cautionary tale of crime and gambling, which, with its upbeat tone and enthusiastic call and response vocals made for a great single. The second, Delia’s Gone, is a brutal, callous murder ballad, building on his infamous Folsom Prison line, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”:

First time I shot her, shot her in the side Hard to let her suffer, but with the second shot she died

The third, I’m Free from the Chain Gang Now, is a tale of an innocent man’s liberation, although whether it is literal, or only in his mind is never made clear. What made Johnny so relatable was that he was passionate about justice, and yet always showed an understanding of what it is that makes us do the wrong thing. In these songs, this dimension of his complex personality emerges. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Cash returned to Delia and Chain Gang to great effect in his American Recording years with Rick Rubin.

His two self-penned contributions also show Cash developing some deep humility. In You Remembered Me, a wild man thanks his lover for being faithful to him. Sing it Pretty, Sue updates his earlier hit Ballad of a Teenage Queen. In Ballad, the talented local girl runs off to Hollywood only to return home because she couldn’t bear to be apart from the humble boy in the candy store. In Sing It, the star (Sue) never comes back. Instead, her jilted lover sits at home quietly supporting the girl he once loved. You can’t help but wonder if this is really a role reversal – Cash secretly wishing that his wife, Vivian, would release him to the life of fame he had found.  More likely it refers to Billie Jean Horton, widow of Cash’s best friend Johnny Horton.  She had recently ended their affair, claiming she wanted to focus on her career… in reality she was frightened by his willingness to leave his family for her and his amphetamine use (she had seen enough of that in her prior marriage to Hank Williams). Regardless, his own compositions reveal the morally complex world in which Cash lived by 1962 – surrounded by fame, linked to his old rural life, a Memphis wife whom he had moved to a big house in California (and to whom he was unfaithful), a ballooning drug addiction and a yearning for the old-time religion of his childhood.

In terms of the actual “sound”, this album satisfies, but is not really the old sound nor the new sound (that would solidify on his next release). Overall, it is a return to his minimalist sound, yet Columbia’s big-studio echo (driven by expensive reverb effects devices), could never match the natural echo found in the Sun Studio’s vocal booth (the claustrophobic tiled bathroom of an old barber shop). Strangely, WS Holland, introduced on Hymns from the Heart, does not appear on this release, so again we’re back to the Tennessee Two complemented by studio musicians. After the blandness of Hymns from the Heart, though, Sound is a breath of fresh air.

4.5/5

Other Songs from the Era:

  • A Little At a Time – Released in advance of the album as a b-side to In the Jailhouse Now, this is a truly magical song.  Led by a 12-string guitar lead riff, it’s closest to album opener Lost in the Desert as they share an early 60’s folk vibe.  The male backing vocals are perfectly balanced, and the lyric is heartrbroken Johnny at his best: “Stop loving me a little at a time…”
  • Delia’s Gone (Alternate Take) – An alternate take of Delia’s Gone is quite different. The music is simplified, removing the backing vocals and the key change. Notably, the crucial 3rd and 4th verses are restored. In these, we find Delia to be a loose woman who drove Johnny to murder. Without these verses, as on the album, Johnny seems to murder her for no apparent reason. Both takes are wonderful interpretations of this traditional tune. Available on the Legend box set.
  • Danger Zone – An unreleased cheating song: “Dangerous to hold you, innocent hearts at stake, how long can we go on, when innocent hearts will break.” I wonder where he got the inspiration for this one? There’s an old story about how Neil Young’s wife was none too happy when he penned Cinnamon Girl. I’m guessing Vivian had a similar reaction to this one (if Cash even let her know about it). Available on Bear Records releases
  • Bonanza!/Pick a Bale O’ Cotton – Johnny penned his own lyrics to the famous TV theme song. A fun classic with a blistering opening riff from Luther. Available on Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash. The b-side is another great cotton song reflecting Johnny’s youth in Arkansas. Driven by banjo and snare drum. Available on the Legend box set and Singles, Plus.
  • The Shifting Whispering Sands Part II – Johnny took a first crack at this with Bonanza’s Lorne Greene. Lorne read the narrative in a baritone deeper than Johnny’s and Johnny sang the chorus. They sound good together, but it’s a bombastic, over-produced tune as well, with thick choral voices. Perhaps intended as a companion to Bonanza!, later, Lorne’s vocals were scrubbed and it was re-mixed with more echo for True Tales of the Wild West. Available on Bootleg Vol. 2.
  • There’ll Be Peace in the Valley (For Me)/Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord) – This glorious gospel-themed 45rpm single introduces a new Johnny Cash sound. On these two gospel classics he teams up with the Carter Family, with whom he frequently toured. Although it would be several years before Cash would marry June Carter, the Carter Family would now become Cash’s primary female backing vocalists. On Peace in the Valley, Anita takes the lead on the chorus, her mother and sister backing them up. The sound is marvelous… a gentle acoustic arrangement highlights Johnny’s flawless baritone until Anita soars out of heaven. The b-side is an Easter classic. The approach is similar to the a-side: Johnny sings the verses, Anita leads the chorus with oh-so-sly blues notes (“oh, sometimes it cause me to tremble”). The four-part harmony when they come in together is magical. The arrangement adds new dimensions, though. Starting off a cappella, it grows, adding gentle drums, bass, guitar, and that Carter Family signature, the autoharp. Here then emerges a new classic Cash sound. Also, don’t miss Maybelle Carter’s shining moment on the third verse. Such an improvement over Hymns from the Heart. Available on Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash.
  • Live at New River Ranch, Rising Sun, Maryland – Seven tracks along with on-stage dialogue make up this 17-minute set released on Bootleg Vol. 3. The audio quality isn’t great, but it’s a wonderful glimpse into the difference between Johnny’s recording and live sound at the time. You get classics (I Still Miss Someone, I Walk the Line), a recent track (Cotton Fields), oldies from the Sun days (Rock Island Line, Country Boy), an instrumental (Perkins Boogie), and his perennial set-closer, The Rebel – Johnny Yuma. The dialogue is hilarious – he impersonates a skipping Ernest Tubb record and Elvis Presley wannabes. If anything, though, the set reveals the effect his dependence on amphetamines was having. Every song is played fast and wild, building one upon the other until Johnny Yuma nearly falls apart at the seams. The set is also notable as an early record of the Tennessee Three backing up Johnny. Interestingly, on I Still Miss Someone, Holland steps back on drums, and Johnny keeps the rhythm the way he used to in the Sun days, by strumming like a locomotive across his muted guitar strings.

Hymns from the HeartOne reason Johnny Cash left Sun Records was because Sam Phillips wouldn’t let him record a gospel album – “they just won’t sell,” he claimed. Within months of moving to Columbia, Cash released Hymns by Johnny Cash and proved Sam wrong. Hymns was wonderful because it sounded like Cash: it was brash, it was vulnerable, and it reflected his worldview so closely. Over a dozen traditional, contemporary and original gospel tunes, Cash sang of the hope his faith brought to the weary and downtrodden.

The same cannot be said for 1962’s Hymns from the Heart, although, in principle it should work. Apart from one Cash original (I Got Shoes), it’s made up of standard hymns Cash sang in church growing up. My Presbyterian roots are a long way from Cash’s Southern gospel tradition, so I find the choice of tunes fascinating. Where my musical tradition was dry and intellectual, Cash’s spiritual world is one of folksy comfort, born of the American revivalist movements. The hymns are steeped in poverty and death, using simple images to inspire optimism and resilience. Just look at the titles: God Must Have My Fortune Laid Away, When I Take My Vacation in Heaven, When He Reached Down His Hand for Me. The message reaches its apex in closer, These Hands:

Now don’t try to judge me by what you’d like me be
For my life hasn’t been a success
Some people have power but still they grieve
While these hands brought me happiness
Now I’m tired and I’m old and I haven’t much gold
Maybe things ain’t been all that I planned
Lord above hear my plea when it’s time to judge me
Take a look at these hard working hands

Sadly, what should have inspired Cash to make a warm, intimate album, results in his worst album to date. More so, for an artist who usually released 1-2 albums a year, there were almost 18 long months between Now, There Was a Song! and Hymns from the Heart (thankfully, Sun cleaned out their vaults and released Now Here’s Johnny Cash in 1961). Given the amount of time he took between releases, it’s shocking that this was the best he could do… and this time round, there’s only one Cash original (I Got Shoes).

The real problem here is the arrangements. The choirs are thicker than ever and most songs are dominated by vibraphone. The result is an album that sounds more like Tennessee Ernie Ford than Cash. As a fan of gospel, I love so many of these songs, but the arrangements are so thick and treacly, I find them hard to listen to. There are glimmers of hope. When I’ve Learned Enough to Die has a gorgeous acoustic accompaniment, and My God is Real has some wonderful lead guitar, but sadly, they get both get bogged down by choirs and vibes.

The one moment of redemption is Cash’s own I Got Shoes. This one, with its call and response vocals, almost sounds like an outtake of Hymns. The one difference is the drums. When you hear that dominant snare sound, you know something has changed, and indeed it has. This marks the addition of WS Holland on drums, expanding the Tennessee Two to the Tennessee Three.

Thankfully many of these hymns have been reinterpreted much better elsewhere. Willie Nelson plays them fast and loose on The Troublemaker, and Cash plays them intimately and sensitively decades later on My Mother’s Hymn Book. Sadly, this album marks the direction Cash would generally turn to in his hymns from here on out. Take for instance the 1970 live version of this album’s closing track, These Hands, found on The Johnny Cash Show. The early ‘60s vibes are removed, but the choir remains, and a grandiose trumpet is added. As a gospel fan, I take comfort in the bookends of Cash’s gospel career – Hymns and My Mother’s Hymn Book are masterpieces. Hymns from the Heart, however, falls from grace.

2/5

Other songs from the era:

  • Forty Shades of Green – Cash re-released The Rebel –Johnny Yuma as a single in 1961. Featured as the b-side, this original tune about Ireland is hit-and-miss. The melody is memorable, and it’s interesting to hear Cash sing about a new landscape. The music, however, is far from country. Instead, Cash sings over another sickly-sweet arrangement of strings, vibes and angelic choruses. Found on Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash.
  • Tall Man/Tennessee Flat-Top Box – Cash recorded this jaunty tune in 1961 for the film, Cindy. His performance is innocuous enough, but the female backing vocals are just strange. Sounding vaguely like Alvin and the Chipmunks, one wonders if they’ve been sped up. Too much vari-speed is a bad thing. Found on Singles, Plus. The b-side, however, is flawless. No backing vocals, no vibes, no strings, just Cash, The Tennessee Two, and (assumedly) Johnny Western picking a wonderful acoustic lead. This one would have fit in with his Sun catalogue.
  • The Big Battle – Released as an a-side (with When I’m Old Enough… on the b-side), The Big Battle is a big production. Sounding like something out of a John Wayne western, this civil war tale with booming drums foreshadows what Cash would do later in the decade on Ballads of the True Wild West.
  • A Day in the Grand Canyon – In 1961, pop orchestra conductor Andre Kostelanetz released a recording of Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. The final track on the LP was Johnny Cash reading a narrative about… A Day in the Grand Canyon. No music here, just sound effects and Johnny Cash’s deep baritone. Makes a nice bedtime story. Now available on budget iTunes compilations.
  • There’s Always A Mother Waiting – This one sounds like an outtake from Hymns from the Heart. A gentle, sentimental acoustic tune with – again – too much vibraphone. Available on Bootleg Vol. 2.
  • Blue Bandana/So Doggone Lonesome – An unreleased pair of tunes by The Tennessee Three. Just what you’d expect, Blue Bandana is a softly meandering instrumental, while So Doggone Lonesome is a rockin’ instrumental version of Johnny’s Sun-era tune, notable for its overdubbed electric guitars, and Holland’s unique snare sound. Available on Bear Records sets.
  • So Do I/Shamrock Doesn’t Grow in California – More unreleased tunes from the era. So Do I is an original Cash moaner with some nice lead playing by Perkins. Shamrock doesn’t come together quite the same way. This unfinished tune continues Johnny’s newfound interest in Ireland (see Forty Shades of Green). Background vocals were added to the mix, but the instruments drop out on the verses. Cash’s vocal is still quite rough, so one can’t wonder if he intended to re-record this tune, but never got around to it. Available on Bear Record Sets.
  • Folsom Prison Blues/I Walk the Line – Johnny recorded these demos in 1961, proving that he was still capable of that stark, minimal sound. No new ground is covered in these tracks, but perhaps this was the starting point for 1964’s I Walk the Line re-recordings of his Sun hits. Available on the promotional-only The Alternative Johnny Cash (given out when you purchased two or more Johnny Cash CDs when Live at Madison Square Garden came out).

now there was a songNow, There Was a Song! is a controversial entry in Cash’s discography. As soon as you hit play, the opening chords of the beautiful George Jones ballad, Seasons of My Heart, will tell you you’re a long way out of Cash territory. A bright country piano opens the tune, quickly followed by fiddle and steel guitar. Yes, the Tennessee Two (Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant) are here, but so are a lot of others. Johnny Western returns to play acoustic on his second Cash album, but, unlike Ride This Train, his acoustic picking isn’t the dominant sound. Instead it’s the slip-note piano of Floyd Cramer (Elvis’ player of choice), Gordon Terry’s fiddle, and none other than Hank Williams’ steel guitar player Don Helms.

Steel guitar is rare in Cash’s music, thus Now, There Was a Song! stands out as an idiosyncratic release. The concept seems simple enough – Cash sings a handful of covers by the kings of country – and yet hearing Cash sing country standards in standard country style makes you realize just how unique his songwriting and interpretation was.

He skips across the major sounds of country. Western Swing is well represented, best of all in I Feel Better All Over, then in Time Changes Everything, a standard written by Texas Playboys vocalist Tommy Duncan, and finally in Bob Wills’ ballad My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You. He moves further into Texas with Ernest Tubb’s slow-dance I’ll Miss You When You Go (it would take them another 22 years before they’d duet on Jealous Loving Heart). Johnny Western steps out briefly for a nice guitar-fiddle duet on the opening of Why Do You Punish Me. The album closes with Just One More – a gorgeous George Jones drinking song where you can just picture the honky tonk crowds clumsily waltzing along before closing time – and one final spritely two-step in Honky-Tonk Girl. In sum, though, there’s only one song that really sounds like a Cash song, and that’s Transfusion Blues, whose locomotive chug-a-chug would make it a mainstay of Cash’s live set (uncensored as Cocaine Blues).

The format, however, allows Cash to break free of some of his usual constraints. Cash was never one for drinking songs (see I Hardly Ever Sing Beer Drinking Songs on Look at them Beans), but here he’s even singing about drug use, something that was very real for him at the time. His usual fare, those sad, sad moaners, are all classic on this one as well: I Couldn’t Keep from Crying, Marty Robbins’ I’d Just Be Fool Enough, and above all Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. Helms’ steel guitar (pickers note, Helms was still playing a non-pedal guitar at this time, which makes one appreciate his virtuosity and sensitivity all the more) draws that much more out of Cash’s weeping lament.

Some fans hate this album and, for Cash purists, I can understand why. I, however, love it.

5/5

Other Songs from the Era:

  • Girl in Saskatoon/Locomotive Man – Where the unreleased tracks of 1960 returned to a simpler sound, Girl in Saskatoon is overloaded with echo. It does, however, continue the acoustic Johnny Western approach Cash favoured that year and would not have been out of place on Ride This Train. As a Canadian, I can’t help but be happy that he sings of Saskatoon, Hudson Bay and all things Canuck. The b-side is a great rollicking tune complete with steam sound effects. Again, largely acoustic-based, it’s a humorous tale of a philandering railroad worker with a woman in every town. A worthy entry into Cash’s canon of train songs. Both are available on Singles, Plus. A raw demo version of the b-side entitled Lovin’ Locomotive Man is on the Bear Records set. It’s a bit slower, but worth it just to hear Cash, Perkins and Grant crank it out without any effects, choirs, or drums added into the mix.
  • Five Minutes to Live: A good boom-chicka-boom tune, this was the title theme to Johnny’s 1961 film, yet it somehow feels unfinished. Rather than a middle 8, we’re given an unembellished instrumental section which changes keys again and again only to go nowhere. I haven’t seen the movie, so maybe the wordless section was there to accommodate a car chase. Meandering aside, apart from the out-of-place “bum-bum-bums”, it proves nicely that Cash could still play his stripped back sound to perfection. Available on Bootleg Vol. 2.
  • The Losing Kind – An absolutely perfect unreleased tune about a luckless gambler. Two versions exist out there, one short, one longer, each with differing closing verses. The long version is on Bootleg Vol. 2. The short version is on a Bear Records compilation.
  • Blues for Two/Jeri and Nina’s Melody – The Tennessee Two and Friend released another 45rpm single in 1960, akin to their 1959 release. This time there’s a riff on Folsom Prison Blues on the a-side. The b-side starts off interestingly, sounding vaguely Middle Eastern, but soon becomes a slow blues tune. Guitar freaks will love Luther’s tremolo tone if nothing else. Available on Bear Records sets.

Ride This TrainJohnny Cash proved his love for concept albums early on. Songs of Our Soil was a handful of tunes about rural life, and the subsequent Johnny Yuma was an EP of cowboy songs. Despite Ride This Train’s title, though, Cash’s fourth full-length for Columbia isn’t really about trains. Instead, it expands the themes of his first two concept records and builds them around an imaginary train ride across the South, both in geography and time.

Cash demonstrated his interest in trains early on with his Sun-era recording of The Wreck of the Old ’97, a tune that would become a staple in his live set. As that song demonstrated, the entire Cash sound is essentially built on the rhythm of an old steam train. Here, the rumbling and whistling of locomotion underlie Johnny’s deep baritone as he narrates a journey from state to state. Each story sets the stage for a song, of which there are eight in total.

The stories are already familiar ground for Cash: coal workers in Kentucky (Loading Coal), father-and-son lumberjacks in Oregon (Lumberjack), a 1788 Nova Scotian family seeking greener pastures on sugar plantations (Dorraine of Ponchartrain), corn farmers in Iowa (Old Doc Brown), and the cotton fields of his hometown, Dyess, Arkansas (Boss Jack). Some of the songs will shock modern ears, particularly the friendly slaveowner in Boss Jack – “Come on children bend your back, work a little faster, fill your sack, hitch up the wagon, take it to the gin, finish pickin’ before the winter sets in”. Likewise, the tempestuous Dorraine, storming off in a rowboat simply because she couldn’t take a joke (“Are you marrying me for money?” the impoverished narrator jests), only to drown as waves and rain overtake her boat is more silly than tragic.

Thus, while some tracks might sound dated, they once again serve as an effective gateway into Cash’s America. As already seen in his other releases, it’s a land of hardworking families often beset by tragedy, yet soldiering on and helping one another out (see the charitable physician in Old Doc Brown). There are bad boys too, both the fastest gun in the west (John Wesley Hardin in Slow Rider), and a man dying to break free of the chain gang in Going to Memphis. Just as the boom-chicka-boom sound drives his music forward, so too does the driving sound of the rails act as a metaphor for the ambition of the American dream. Slaves dream of being set free, impoverished farmers dream of prosperity and prisoners dream of freedom.

In the album’s opening dialogue, Cash reflects on the darker side of the American Dream. As he lists off the names of America’s native peoples, he comments, “It’s with a little regret that I think about how I pushed them back, crowded them out.” This is the tension of America. It’s a land of opportunity, where timbers ask to be felled, and corn grows higher than Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine could ever imagine. Yet it’s also a land of loss, violence and oppression. Cash was an early champion of aboriginal people’s rights, and opening a travelogue of America with a reminder of how it was stolen from American Indians would be a bold move today, let alone in 1960.

The music on this album was also a bold move for Cash. As soon as the first song kicks in, we hear a different sound. The intricate acoustic guitar picking on opener Loading Coal is beyond Luther’s ability. A quick check of the liner notes reveals the album is guested by Johnny Western, a member of Cash’s travelling road show. Western appears throughout, providing the opportunity for a uniquely acoustic album. Indeed only the single, Going to Memphis, harkens back to the Memphis rockabilly sound, complete with rollicking lead electric guitar. Elsewhere we’re treated to downhome fiddle (Old Doc Brown) and gorgeous resonator guitar (When Papa Played the Dobro). Going to Memphis also features stomping chains courtesy of none other than famed found-sound man Alan Lomax. Indeed, Rick Rubin must have used this track as a template for 2006’s God’s Gonna Cut You Down (also featured in a Chevy commercial).

In sum, we have an interesting album here. Cash continues to sing of his love for the South’s old ways, but expands his sonic palette. He also introduces the spoken word narration he would turn to throughout his career (and experimented with in the scrapped Ballad of the Harp Weaver a few months earlier). The downside is, with so much narration, this album is light on tunes, and not really one I might pull out just to listen to a song or two. Instead, it requires a solid listen from start to finish.  Your enjoyment, then, will depend on the commitment you give to this recording.

4/5

Other songs from the era:

  • The Fable Of Willie Brown – An outtake released on the Legacy edition of Ride This Train. While Cash didn’t write this one himself, when he sings of a heartbreaker finally tamed by a girl named June, you can’t help but wonder if he’s singing about a young married woman he was touring with at the time…
  • Smiling Bill McCall – Released as the b-side to Seasons of My Heart (which would be included later that year on Now There Was a Song!), this is Cash’s first stab at a humorous talking blues (think A Boy Named Sue). Here the humour is very black: a radio star tries to commit suicide because he’s only 4 feet tall and his listeners think he’s 6 foot plus. “I’d rather be in the river dead than to hear them laughing at my bald head.”