Album Review: Little Fauss and Big Halsy (Soundtrack) – Johnny Cash

Posted: October 11, 2013 in 1970's, 3/5, 4/5, Country, Johnny Cash
Tags: , , , , ,

Little FaussLittle Fauss and Big Halsy is a forgotten Robert Redford movie about motorcycle racers.  I’ve never seen the film myself, but given the smash hit that was Easy Rider, I can understand why the studio would be keen to greenlight a film like this.

Having only released the soundtrack to I Walk the Line three months earlier, one might wonder, do we need another Johnny Cash soundtrack?  Well, the answer’s yes and no.  No because this is largely inessential Cash, but yes because it steps out in a very different direction from I Walk the Line.  Where the 1970 offering swung between orchestral bombast and acoustic simplicity to draw out the emotional nature of the film’s subject, this 1971 release is quite different.  Notable as a wonderful collaboration with Carl Perkins, it’s 10 rollicking tunes that sound like just want they are: backing for a fun, motorbike film.

Essentially we’re given seven tunes, two penned by Cash, four by Perkins, and the last by Johnny’s rock star friend, Bob Dylan.  Johnny’s first contribution, Rollin’ Free, is a fast little number with lyrics about high octane.  It’s by the numbers, but fun.  His second tune, Little Man, though, stands out as Johnny’s sole ballad on this release.  Lyrically, it’s another reflection of Johnny’s love for the down-and-out, the type of song he would perfect later that year on his epic tune, The Man in Black.

Carl Perkins’ tunes, though, are really the heart of the album.  The Ballad of Little Fauss and Big Halsy and Movin’ both tell the story of the film.  The lyrics are clunky, but that’s not the point.  Instead, they provide a showcase for Carl’s wonderful lead guitar.  The sound throughout is what we’ve heard on his late 60s appearances with Johnny’s band – he fits right into the classic Cash boom-chicka-boom sound, but takes it to a new level, like The Tennessee Three on steroids.  To that end, 706 Union is probably his best on the album, simply because it’s an instrumental.  Carl’s fourth tune, True Love is Greater than Friendship, is the big anomaly.  He takes the mic from Johnny on this one and, although it’s a great ballad worthy of George Jones, it sticks out like a sore thumb.  While the other nine tracks meld together seamlessly, this one drops the Cash sound and subs in weepy steel guitar.  I love it to bits, bit it just doesn’t fit.

The remaining tune is a tune Dylan wrote for Cash, Wanted Man, which Cash continued singing until his death.  While Dylan known for penning lengthy  tunes, this one was terse and to the point, reminiscent of his Nashville Skyline work, and Cash’s own early Sun hits.  It’s a great song that, in Cash’s hands, paved the way for the Outlaw sound and image.

Throughout, the album is peppered with instrumental versions of the Ballad of Little Fauss…, Little Man, and Rollin’ Free.  They’re all great, although lack the flash of some of Carl’s greater moments playing guitar on stage with Johnny (think Long-Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man on the Legacy Edition of At Folsom Prison).  Sadly, this would be Johnny’s last album with producer Bob Johnston who saved Johnny from the over-produced mess of Don Law’s later production efforts.  Johnston helped Johnny craft a renewed, laid-back, stripped down sound that he wouldn’t be able to recapture until Rick Rubin came along more than 20 years later.

All in all, this makes for a fun, but short listen (it clocks in at a mere 26:03!).  Apart from Wanted Man, it’s not an essential release.

3.5/5

Other tracks from the era:

  • Little Man/True Love is Greater Than Friendship/Movin’ – A Bear Records CD edition (packaged with I Walk the Line) includes three further instrumentals as a bonus.  Just what you’d expect.

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