Album Review: Everybody Loves a Nut – Johnny Cash

Posted: August 9, 2013 in 1960's, 4/5, Country, Johnny Cash
Tags: , , , , , ,

Everybody Loves a NutI write this the day after Cowboy Jack Clement’s death.  As the man who had the bright idea to hit record when the Million Dollar Quartet assembled in Sam Phillip’s Sun Studios, and later thought, “why don’t we add some trumpets to Ring of Fire,” his influence on Johnny Cash’s career, to say nothing of music as a whole, is undeniable.  It’s fitting, then, that today’s review turns to Cash’s 1966 comedy album, Everybody Loves a Nut, which features four Clement compositions. This review is dedicated to The Cowboy.

Nut couldn’t be further from Cash’s previous release, the expansive double-LP Sings Ballads of the True West.  On Everybody Loves a Nut, Cash offers eleven light-hearted tunes that demonstrate his deep sense of humour.  As his previous releases, and especially live sets, reveal, though, while Cash was massively funny, he often had a dark edge – the “funny” song on Ballads was a Shel Silverstein tune about a man getting hanged.  For Nut, recorded at the height of his drug abuse, Cash’s state of mind in 1966 contributes to the sense of danger that pervades the album.  The sound, however, is upbeat and happy.  Most songs move along with the Tennessee Three’s boom-chicka-boom sound, and well-placed backing vocals by the Carter Family.  The signature sound of the album, though, is the Cowboy’s acoustic guitar which  is highlighted throughout.

The songs, too, highlight Clement’s wonderful humour, most notably on the opening two tracks, Everybody Loves a Nut, and the second, The One On The Right is On the Left.  Everbody sets the tone for the album, with the Carter family singing “Everybody loves a nut/the whole world loves a weirdo/brains are in a rut, but/everybody loves a nut” over a spritely barroom piano.  The One on the Right was the single from the album, and served as a hilarious, timely send-up of the many politically divisive folk groups of the era.  Take Me Home has a catchy chorus, but is ultimately a lesser version of I’ve Been Everywhere.  Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog – which Cash played to perfection on At Folsom Prison – is dead, perfect, a brief, hilarious tribute to a man’s troublesome hound.

Cash attempts a few compositions of his own on this release, too.  The Bug That Tried to Crawl Around the World – any guesses what this song’s about – is either pure silliness, or the delirious result of his drug dependency.  Austin Prison, a song of a murderer’s trial and subsequent escape, is short on humour, but a good representation of Cash’s rebellious spit and fire.  Not quite Folsom Prison, but a worthy addition to his prison song repertoire.  Please Don’t Play Red River Valley is a dead hilarious tale of the tiresome process of learning to play harmonica.

The rest of the material is drawn from a variety of sources.  Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s Cup of Coffee features the composer’s yodeling on top of Cash’s drunk rambling.  The Singing Star’s Queen uses a Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star motif to lead to a glorious punchline about cheating with another singer’s girl.  Boa Constrictor is Cash’s second Shel Silverstein recording.  After 1965’s 25 Minutes to Go, he’s now singing about being eaten by a snake.  Cash’s less-than-lucid state of mind at the time likely enabled this fabulously ridiculous delivery – there’s none other like it in his catalogue.  The crowning achievement, though, is Joe Bean.  Yet another hanging song, the Carter Family’s sweet harmonies end the album on a twisted note that’s absolutely perfect.

Overall, this is an enjoyable album with a classic single.  The arrangements are reserved, lacking the syrupy strings and bombastic choruses of other releases of the era.  Strangely, though, the recording quality seems lacking at times.  Perhaps Cash’s substance abuse led to less-than-ideal recording questions.  Also, while he has many fine vocal performances on this album, at times his drunken drawl can become wearisome.  A good album, but not a knock-out classic.

4/5

Other Songs from the Era:

  • Cotton Pickin’ Hands – A non-descript mid-paced song about life on the cotton farms, which serve as the b-side to The One on the Right…. Available on Singles, Plus.
  • Bottom of a Mountain – A great tale of life as a miner featuring, appropriately enough, the Carter Family.  Even features those Jack Clement mariachi trumpets.  Released as the b-side to Boa Constrictor.  Available on Singles, Plus.
  • The Frozen Logger – A spritely take on this classic folk song. This tale could inspire an episode of CSI. Available on Bootleg Vol. II.
  • Foolish Questions –A strange little song about those people you know who ask stupid questions. Available on Bootleg Vol. II.
  • Concerning Your New Song – A Western-sounding ballad with gorgeous mandocello, as Johnny narrates a musician’s rejection of a fan’s submission of a song.  Cash must have received thousands of these over the years. Available on Bear Records compilations.

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