Album Review: Johnny Cash – Any Old Wind That Blows

Posted: November 5, 2014 in 1970's, 4/5, Country, Johnny Cash
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Any Old Wind That BlowsBy 1973, Cash was well settled into Hendersonville, Tennessee and life was, by most accounts, comfortable. He could now record at his own House of Cash studios, his band – The Tennessee Three augmented by Carl Perkins – was well established, and he had found a producer he was comfortable with, piano player Larry Butler. Not surprisingly, then, Any Old Wind That Blows sounds above all things comfortable.

This can be seen as both a good and bad thing. On the one hand, the album has a sense of confidence and maturity to it. On the other, it sometimes feels languid and dull.  Moreover, the album is clearly torn in two directions: it opens with a string of tunes notable for Butler’s syrupy, orchestral arrangements, but by the end of side 1, turns to has now well-established 70s take on the boom chicka boom sound.

For the most part, the songwriting is top notch. Cash seems to be on a creative streak, penning five of the album’s twelve tracks without being repetitive.  Where Kentucky Straight is an ode to a straightforward, loyal woman, Too Little, Too Late is a man frustrated with his delinquent lover. The Ballad of Annie Palmer is a unique song in Cash’s catalogue, a little tale of a harsh Jamaican slaveowner, no doubt inspired by Cash’s time in his new Caribbean vacation home.  It stands out for its simple arrangement built on acoustic guitar and island percussion. Album closers Country Trash and Welcome Back Jesus both revisit the simple philosophy of Cash’s rural youth. One holds up the cause of the hard working farmer:

But we’ll all be equal under the grass,
And God’s got a heaven for country trash.
And God’s got a heaven for country trash.
I’ll be doin’ alright for country trash.

And the other is the prayer of a tempted man looking to the promise of Jesus’ return as  source of light, hope and strength.

His choice of covers is quite inspired, too. He turns to emerging Outlaw star and friend Kris Kristofferson for the stunning duet with June, The Loving Gift, singing:
Each giving to the other love and givin’ it away
We spent the precious time we knew was borrowed
‘Cause you gave me the courage to live with yesterday
And you gave me tomorrow

Larry Gatlin’s The Good Earth is almost an integration of Cash’s album closers, again romanticizing the hard working rural man through a string of hallmark lines from classic gospel hymns. If I Had a Hammer is another duet with June, this time setting the iconic Pete Seeger folk tune to a rollicking country beat.  And Best Friend is a curious little Roy Orbison tune, singular in Cash’s repertoire for its waltz time and minor key setting. It also declares a clear vision of individualism (“you’re the best friend that you’ll ever have”) different from Cash’s usual message of dependence on God.

That leaves us with two tracks – the openers and closers to side 1. Opener Any Old Wind That Blows is the resigned confession of a man smitten with love for a woman he knows is destined to wander. On this one, the boom-chicka-boom sound is nowehere to be found, even were the strings to be stripped away. What emerges, though, is country orchestral done right, the gentle strings evoking a grey, November breeze. By the end of side 1, though, the mood has changed. Oney – which went to #2 on the charts – is a humourous tale of a working man who, after 25 years on the job, finally gives his harsh boss his comeuppance.  It’s enjoyable enough, but not up to the standard of A Boy Named Sue.

This isn’t Cash’s finest album, but it’s fine enough. The upbeat Oney and If I Had a Hammer stick up as the sole upbeat numbers on an otherwise sleepy album, but I do enjoy the sound of this one. The four orchestral numbers are tastefully done (for once), and the rest is a mix of the laid-back 70s Cash sound, with a few surprises thrown in the mix. By the time we hit Welcome Back Jesus, the sound has shifted from a slick symphonic number to what sounds like a home demo.

If you’re looking for a relaxing Cash album, this is the one for you.

4/5

Other Songs from the Era:

  • Help Me Make It Through Night – This Kris Kristofferson might just be the greatest country ballad of all time, so deeply is it soaked in raw desperation. Johnny and June do a fine job with it on this single-only release, with a solid backing by the Tennessee Three.  Available on Singles Plus and Johnny and June’s Duets compilation (previously released as 16 Biggest Hits).

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