Review: Johnny Cash – The Johnny Cash Children’s Album

Posted: July 29, 2015 in 1970's, 4/5, Country, Johnny Cash
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Johnny Cash Childrens AlbumIn 1974, Johnny Cash appeared for the first time on the new children’s program, Sesame Street singing two songs: his tale of Arkansas floods, Five Feet High and Rising, and Nasty Dan, a humorous tale of a miserable man who marries a miserable woman and has a miserable son, written by Sesame Street staffer Jeff Moss. Nasty Dan made for some memorable dialogue with Oscar the Grouch and seems to have inspired Johnny to make an album for children.

Certainly children were part of his life in this time. His son John was born in 1970, and was immortalized in I Got a Boy (and His Name is John), released in 1972 on the International Superstar compilation. His step-daughter Rosie was a new mother as well, so one can imagine his Hendersonville home was a busy place.

Recent years, though, had been filled with challenges. His Jesus film project, The Gospel Road, failed commercially (he had to distribute it through Billy Graham’s organization rather than conventional channels), and he had split with long-time manager Saul Holliff. Recent releases found Johnny pulled in different directions, album sales were falling off, and his songwriting was increasingly lackluster. In this context, The Johnny Cash Children’s Album is a breath of fresh air, eleven short tracks, seven of which are written by Cash himself.

The covered material is culled from interesting sources. Nasty Dan serves as an amusing opening track, and is followed by sweet lesson in math and love, One and One Makes Two, also written by Jeff Moss. Famed steel guitarist Billy Mize – a founder of the Bakersfield sound – contributes Call of the Wild, a tribute to the migration of geese (and this being a country song, the papa goose dies). (Cash fans will note the melody cribbed from the Road to Kaintuck). And Mr. Country Music, Red Foley, provides Old Shep, a story about a boy and his dog (and this being a country song, of course the dog dies).

Johnny’s own contributions are amusing little vignettes perfect for children, but enjoyable for adults too. I Got a Boy is included here for the many who would not have picked up the earlier greatest hits package. Little Magic Glasses is a touching reflection on life’s direction and the blissful unknown of the future. Miss Tara continues his reflections on growing up, as Johnny wonders what will become of his youngest daughter.

Dinosaur Song does some incredible rhyming with long, awkward names. Little Green Fountain should be a classic campfire song. And the Timber Man is one of those perfect Johnny Cash tributes to the working way of life, this time to America’s logging heritage.  The leaves the centerpiece of the album and 3:13, the longest track too), Tiger Whitehead. Johnny wrote this with the psychiatrist who helped him with his addiction to amphetamines, and it’s a mighty tale of a Tennessean who killed 99 bears, but his haunted in his death by one last beast.

Music-wise, there’s nothing to object to here.  This is Johnny’s third co-production with Charlie Bragg, and they continue to turn out a varied sound. The upbeat numbers are rendered in his classic boom chicka boom style. Some of the ballads are very effective, rendered in a minimalist acoustic style; others have strings added and come across a bit sleepy. Like his previous album, The Junkie and the Juicehead Minus Me, it’s played by a mish-mash of musicians, including the Tennessee Three and numerous session players in Johnny’s circle. Despite being recorded sporadically over a few years, the sound is relatively cohesive.

This is a great album for kids and is far more relaxed compared to most modern children’s music. For any Johnny Cash fan, it’s an enjoyable listen.

4/5

Other Songs from the Era:

  • Nasty Dan, Five Feet High and Rising – The two performances from Sesame Street are enjoyable listen and featuring dialogue with characters Oscar the Grouch and Biff.  Available on the 1979 lp The Stars Come Out on Sesame Street
  • There’s a Bear in the Woods, My Grandfather’s Clock, Ah Bos Cee Dah, Why is a Fire Engine Red? – Some outtakes from the sessions have surfaced. There’s a Bear in the Woods is another bear hunting story (and is paired with Tiger Whitehead on the album’s reissue). My Grandfather’s Clock is a fine remake of his 1959 recording with a spoken word intro and rolling banjo throughout. Ah Bos Cee Dah is an amusing way to learn the alphabet. Why is a Fire Engine Red is an amusing, if dated, joke.  Available on the Legacy edition of The Johnny Cash Children’s Album.
Comments
  1. “One and One Make Two” was not written by Jerry Moss. It was written by Jeff Moss, the writer of “Nasty Dan.”

    • Thanks for the catch – I’ll get it updated. Cash tended to find a songwriter he liked and recorded several of their songs in close succession. Peter Lafarge comes to mind and Kristofferson too, although he kept recording Kris’ songs throughout his career.

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