Posts Tagged ‘June Carter Cash’

one piece at a timeWe’ve begun to see Johnny flirt with hot producers in the 70s in search of renewed commercial success, generally with very limited results. As he would continue to do throughout his career, these experiments were generally countered with “a return to the classic Cash sound”.

Lo and behold, we have an album not credited to Johnny Cash but to… Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three. If you haven’t got the hint, this should be one old-school boom chicka boom album. And, to Cash’s sure delight, this one was marked by a #1 hit… the title track, “One Piece at a Time”. Yay for Cash!

But how does the album actually pan out?

Opening track Let There Be Country serves as a pretty good mission statement for the album. The song indeed brings back, if not the classic Tennessee Three sound, at least the 70s version driven by loping acoustic guitar and boom chicka boom leads. The song is a catchy number that taps into Nashville’s anxieties of the day: Countrypolitan was leaving past superstars in the dust for the first time, and Cash’s recent attempts at commercial success bore this out. The old rural life was changing and country music was beginning to speak to a new urban experience not rooted in farming and the long shadow of the Great Depression that so marks the songs of Cash’s generation. Cash names off a hall of fame-like list of country greats but then argues that the new sounds are ok because today’s new songwriter stepped off a bus into Nashville the same as all those greats did one day a long time ago. Times change, but the tradition continues.

This is clearly Gentleman Cash, then. Looking at the dark days of post-Vietnam America facing a large recession due to the oil crisis, his view is, “everything’ll be ok”. This is nowhere clearer than on Sold Out of Flagpoles, a renewed take on patriotism for Cash (compared to say his America album) in which he again argues that the frightening changes of time are really the same old patterns repeating themselves. This time the musical accompaniment adds Jew’s Harp and mandolin for variety, but the underlying boom chicka boom is a reassuring motif for the worried listener.

Elsewhere, the songs are a bit of a missed bag. In a Young Girl’s Mind is a beautiful ballad drawing on mandocello and harmonica (courtesy of the great Charlie McCoy), yet marked by restraint in its arrangement, drawing the listener close to Johnny’s words. The same can’t be said for Side B’s ballad, Love Has Lost Again, which drowns in syrupy strings. A sad choice, given that Johnny was trying to showcase the songwriting of his daughter Rosanne (yet to be a star herself). Mountain Lady is another laidback tune about the fading down home life that again is swamped by the strings. Oh yeah, and they also dominate an upbeat tune about a freewheeling rich girl, Daughter of a Railroad Man.

Obviously I’m not a fan of overblown arrangements, but the recording of the album is an important step in Cash’s work. He’s now found his own sound in his home studio. The strings are pastoral, and amidst the choral voices, you can clearly hear his wife June in the mix. The basic sound of the Tennessee Three is locked in, and Cash now starts to draw on a broader pool of musicians to fill out the sound. Take the harmonica which is all over this album, clearly drawing on Willie Nelson’s sound.

When the strings aren’t overdone, this has interesting results. Michigan City Howdy Do would be a fabulous outlaw country tune. Drop D lead guitar winds back and forth through the melody like a slithering snake, all to a pretty awesome strutting rhythm that would make Waylon proud. If only the choir didn’t come in on the chorus…

Oh well… almost all is forgiven on the title track One Piece at a Time, which revisits the Boy Named Sue template to tell a humorous tale of a Cadillac built from parts smuggled out of the factory over twenty years. An instant classic. Ironically Boy Name Sue author Shel Silverstein co-wrote opening number Let There be Country, while this Silverstein-by-the-numbers tune is penned by little known writer Wayne Kemp

The highlight of the album, though, is Committed to Parkview. In the midst of the tumultuous 70s post-hippie haze, Johnny tells a compassionate tale of the many patients of a mental institution. He would revisit this tune with the Highwaymen, but the version here is perfect.

That takes us to closing track Go On Blues, which is the closest to the 50s Cash sound we’ve gotten on a studio album in a long while. Again, Cash’s optimism comes to the fore as he sings, “Go on blues, go on lonesome, get your dark clouds off of me”… Classic Cash.

All in all it’s a decent album noted by some real energy from Johnny. He penned over half the songs himself. It was recorded at his home studio. And production was handled by a Nashville outsider – Detroit native Don Davis – assisted by Johnny’s personal engineer Charlie Bragg. Light on contemporary tricks, nods to Cash’s past, and the Man in Black singing a few songs he really cares about. I’m glad this one hit the charts.

4/5

Other songs from the era:

  • No Earthly Good – a song Cash returned to many times in the 70s. This version features up-and-comers the Oak Ridge Boys on background vocals with Johnny on lead vocals. From the Oak Ridge Boys’ album Old Fashioned Down Home
  • Temptation – the ballad with June that could have made this album. Strange that it remained unreleased given how often they sang the tune live. A worthy successor to Jackson. Released on the Reader’s Digest The Great Seventies Recordings box set.
  • Behind The Walls of a Prison – A televised prison special brought Johnny together with Linda Ronstadt (who’s totally on fire), Roy Clark, and a comedy duo whose work has not stood the test of time. A few decent, if predictable, live tracks here (Folsom Prison Blues, Sunday Morning Coming Down, Hey Porter, Wreck of the Old Ninety Seven, Orange Blossom Special, A Boy Named Sue and a fabulous Jacob Green). It’s interesting hearing Cash’s set interplay with the other guests, but not essential. Also interesting as I think this is the first time we hear synthesizer on a Cash song.

JohnnyCashStrawberryCakeAnother Johnny Cash live album? Well, by 1976, Johnny’s albums were stalling in the charts and the label was flip-flopping him between new producers with no great results. After a scrapped gospel album, they turned back to the format that rebirthed his career…

Unfortunately (at least for Columbia), Strawberry Cake is no Folsom Prison or San Quentin.  For the Cash fan, though, it’s an enjoyable album, different again from any of his others. Folsom is the wild one, San Quentin an introduction to all new material in the raucous prison environment, Madison Square Gardens the performance of a gentleman, The Johnny Cash Show his gospel message to a TV audience, and Pa Osteraker a stripped down document of his singer-songwriter period, with just the boys backing him.

On Strawberry Cake, Johnny is back on the road with the whole family band. He’s still the placid gentleman often heard in the 70s, but he seems to be moving into a “greatest hits” mode, a shift away from the early 70s Cash who sang political tunes and the narratives of David Allan Coe and Kris Kristofferson. The abundant dialogue on the album, however, shows why Johnny was just as popular as he was, even able to break the British market which is generally resistant to country music.

The sound on this album is great, too. Carl Perkins is gone from the band, so his edgier leads are gone, but new guitarist Jerry Hensley is fantastic with Bob Wooten. The two of them weave guitar lines back and forth in a wonderful way, almost like those early Stones albums where you can’t tell where Keith Richards ends and Brian Jones begins.

So what do we have here? Certainly some classics, all played masterfully. Big River is paced perfectly – too often it’s rushed in its live performance – and there is a balance between the minimal lead riff, and some flashier licks during the verses. Doin’ My Time is a magical rendition, sounding Sun Records-like without any drums, but modern with the dual lead guitars. I Still Miss Someone falters a bit with schmaltzy piano. They recover quickly with an a cappella duet between Johnny and June Carter Cash on Another Man Done Gone interrupted only briefly by some tasteful blues guitar. I Got Stripes is perhaps a bit chipper for a prison song, but still works. And Rock Island Line is played masterfully, even improved by Johnny’s joke about how audience member Lonnie Donegan (of UK skiffle fame) stole the song from him in 1958!

There are a couple of old-time numbers. The Carter Family, in an increasingly rare performance for the time, do a great medley of Church in the Wildwood and Lonesome Valley. With only 12-string guitar and Johnny singing bass as backing, it’s a fantastic performance. Plus it gets interrupted by a bomb scare evacuation! Closing gospel number, The Fourth Man, is a hokier affair, but enjoyable.

The three newer songs are all enjoyable but don’t cover new ground for Cash. Strawberry Cake is an unreleased waltz documenting the tale of a Californian down on his luck in New York who wanders into the Plaza only to be tempted by the sight of strawberry cake… which he steals to amusing results. Fun but forgettable. Navajo is a beautiful tribute to the story of this native tribe, but lacks the punch of his Bitter Tears material. And, introduced as his “newest song”, is Destination Victoria Station, the somewhat generic train song released on his special album for the Southern US restaurant chain of the same name. The fact that the new songs are all unreleased obscurities only highlights how he was lacking a decent new single to promote.

All in all, though, it’s a great live album showcasing Johnny’s laid back mid-seventies style. Tragic if only in how it showcases his ability to draw a live audience while not being able to sell new records.

4/5

Other songs from the era:

  • I Still Miss Someone/My Ship Will Sail – The Earl Scruggs Revue’s 1975 Anniversary album was successful enough that they released a Volume 2 the following year. Two great songs played in a laid-back bluegrass style. I Still Miss Someone is a fantastic remake of Cash’s iconic ballad, and My Ship Will Sail is a modern country gospel Cash first recorded (but didn’t release until the posthumous Ultimate Gospel compilation) in 1974, and later tried again on 1987’s Johnny Cash is Coming to Town. Available on Singles Plus.
  • It’s All Over/Old Time Feeling – It’s All Over was a single-only release in 1976 and is a fine if unremarkable Cash breakup tune. Worth listening to as it harkens back to the Tennessee Three sound. The b-side is a syrupy ballad featuring June Carter Cash with a lusher 70s sound. First released on Greatest Hits Vol. 3, no available on Singles Plus.
  • No Earthly Good – Johnny Cash lent his voice to this gospel tune from the Oak Ridge Boys’ Old Fashioned Down Home (Hand Clappin’ Foot Stompin’) LP. A typical waltz-time acoustic number, this is a song that Cash would revisit frequently in his career. Only available on the deleted Oak Ridge Boys’ album.
  • Temptation – This unreleased duet with June Carter Cash had been in Cash’s live set for years. If you like Jackson, you’ll probably like this. Available on the Great Seventies Recordings.

soul of truth

Having recently been on tour, on Oct. 7, 1975, Johnny Cash gathered a group of musicians in his home studio to record some gospel music. It would take almost forty years for any of the material to be released, but what is now available makes for an interesting listen.

The October 7th sessions featured seven songs:

  • Don’t Give Up on Me – a personal a deeply emotional prayer in which Johnny sings “I’m still not the man that you want me to be, so please Lord, don’t give up on me”
  • What on Earth Will You Do (For Heaven’s Sake) – Johnny recorded this number many times during the seventies so it was obviously an important work for him. A spoken word introduction reveals this is not intended to be a judgmental or critical number, but rather is intended more for himself than anyone else.
  • I Was There When it Happened – he returns to this number he recorded with Sun Records in a piano-led southern gospel style
  • That’s Just Like Jesus – a soft ballad in waltz time.
  • Over the Next Hill We’ll Be Home – a new Johnny-written lyric to the same melody as What on Earth
  • Keep me From Blowing Away – a slow tune about human weakness and dependency on God for strength.
  • Our Little Home Town – The most upbeat of the tunes, with a classic gospel beat unusual for Cash, this one’s a condemnation of big city evils.

Lyrically it’s an interesting bunch of tunes because they are largely written by Johnny and they reflect a deep humility. He speaks of himself as weak and deeply in need of God’s grace. Musically, this is quite the departure for Johnny. Notable in the musicians are the Oak Ridge Boys who provide southern gospel quartet harmonies; Earl Poole Ball, a vigorous gospel piano player, who would soon become a fixture in Johnny’s band; and steel guitar player Pete Wade, here playing guitar, offering weepy guitar bends left, right and centre that are strikingly different from Bob Wootton’s simple, clean playing.

Three more songs were recorded on October 21st, with many of the same musicians, but lacking guitarist Pete Wade:

  • Back in the Fold: A great ballad of redemption.
  • Look unto the East: A reflective tune about Jesus’ death.
  • An unissued take of the Carter Family classic Waiting on the Far Side Banks of Jordan.

Later in the month, Bob Wootton and a few others would overdub some more instrumental parts, but a travesty occurred on November 4th. Five of the tracks – That’s Just Like Jesus, Over the Next Hill, Keep Me from  Blowing Away, Back in the Fold, and Look Unto the East – were drenched with strings. Despite classic harmonica player Charlie McCoy adding a few parts, even he can save the tunes from absolute treacle.  What was starting to be a loose, relaxed and well-played album, with sincere, strong vocals from Cash, turned into an overproduced mess, just like his recent Precious Memories album.

In December, Johnny and June went back with the Oak Ridge Boys, son-in-law Jack Routh, Pete Wade, Marshall Grant, WS Holland and a few others and recorded a few more tunes:

  • Sanctified: a fun gospel number with some questionable works-based theology
  • Would You Recognize Jesus: A catchy, new Statler Brothers tune (they would release their own version in 1976) with a clear message:  “If you’ve never fed the hungry given clothes to the poor, if you’ve never helped a stranger who came knocking on your door… well, if you ain’t helping none of these, then you ain’t helping him,” that unfortunately devolves into a schmaltzy joke about Jesus “riding in a ’49 Ford”.
  • Another take of Waiting on the Far Side Banks of Jordan that shines thanks to June’s vocal at Wade’s guitar licks

Cash had already released five albums in 1975, a gospel album in 1974, and his sales were waning, so it’s no big surprise that Columbia shelved this release. It was finally released as part of the excellent Bootleg Vol. IV: Soul of Truth, which featured two full discs of rare Cash gospel albums. This particular album has its moments, but again shows Johnny (and producer Charlie Bragg) whitewashing anything interesting about their sound.

3/5

Look at them Beans

With John R. Cash we saw the real beginning of Johnny Cash’s long decline and, to be blunt, I find many of his late 70s and 80s releases downright depressing.  It’s not that there’s nothing of value in these albums, in fact when he was clean in the late 70s he gave many fine vocal performances.  What’s said is that the excellent tracks seem to be a fluke. He floundered around with so many producers looking for creative inspiration it’s like he was panning for gold, hoping to get lucky. What happened to the man who had a vision of mariachi horns that led to Ring of Fire? What about the passionate campaigner for Indian rights that produced the bold Bitter Tears concept album? Sadly, Look at Them Beans, Johnny’s fourth release in 1975 was just another shot in the dark.

John R. Cash’s attempt at working with LA-based studio musicians didn’t work, so this time around, Cash brought Detroit-based R&B producer Don Davis to his Hendersonville studio to help him out (friend Charlie Bragg also produced two of the tracks). For inspiration, Cash looked to simple rural themes. And, given one of the only tracks that worked on his previous album was written by Texan Billy Joe Shaver, it’s not surprising that Johnny turned to the Lone Star state, with its red-hot outlaw scene, for material.  Perhaps then Look at them Beans should be remembered as “the Texas album.”

The opening track, Texas-1947, was written by emerging songwriter Guy Clark, who would later become a mentor to Lyle Lovett.  It’s a worthy song about a child’s wonder at the dawn of high-speed trains. Joe Tex provides the enthusiastically delivered Look at them Beans, about a year of bumper crop. In my mind it’s a shadow compared to Five Feet High and Rising. Another Texan, Don Williams, provides Down the Road I Go, which is a fine a country-blues as Cash had sung since the mid-sixties, complete with boom-chicka-boom rhythm and honky tonk piano. Johnny’s son-in-law Jack Routh again contributes a song, All Around Cowboy, which evokes that Texan atmosphere. And, last, Johnny himself penned Down at Drippin’ Springs, a tribute to Texan hill country and its wonderful music:

“Down at Dripping Springs down at Dripping Springs
There’s Willie and Waylon, Kris and Tom, have you heard Gatlin sing”

The other material on the album is highly sentimental and fits the albums rural themes well. What Have You Got Planned Tonight, Diana, which would be released by Merle Haggard the next year, is a powerful ballad about love’s twilight years. The story of a dying widower looking forward to joining his wife in death  now seems eerily prophetic knowing how soon after June Carter Johnny died. No Charge is a spoken word narrative of a parent’s love for a child. June and her sister Helen Carter provide Gone which is a San Francisco prison song complete with weeping pedal steel (an unusual instrument in Cash’s music).

Two more Cash songs remain. I Hardly Ever Sing Beer Drinking Songs is quite catchy, but doesn’t ring true:

“I never ever sing the blues I’ve forgotten Born to Lose
And I hardly ever sing beer drinking songs.”

A great boom chicka boom number, again with honky tonk piano, it’s paired back-to-back with the tear-in-my-beer weeper Down the Road I Go. They’re in the same key, have a similar arrangement, but offer complete opposite messages, which just makes Johnny seem insincere.  This plays poorly for Johnny because his appeal has always been his ability to connect with the downtrodden.  Last, I Never Met a Man Like You Before is the best gospel song Johnny had produced in a while, with it’s simple message:

“If worldly riches fail me, but I have you how can I be poor?
I’ve never met a man like you before.”

All in all, we have a decent set of tunes that suit Johnny well. Many of the basic arrangements work well too. Carl Perkins had moved on from Johnny’s band, which brought the Tennessee Three back to their minimalist roots. Bob Wootton’s guitar playing produces some crystal clear leads over the classic boom chicka boom sound. A few tunes sound like they’re straight out of Johnny’s mid-60s heyday with Columbia…

Until Don Davis coats everything in syrup.  Every nook and cranny is filled with a string backing, a brass intrusion, or a soaring choir. Add in a few attempts at contemporary styles, such as the outlaw-style shuffle of Texas-1947, and the album is left sounding dated.

An improvement over John R. Cash, but all in all a mediocre release.

3.5/5

Other Tracks from the Era:

  • Beautiful Memphis: An acoustic-led waltz that was left unreleased. Left in unadulterated form, it’s a fine nostalgic number. Available on the Reader’s Digest box set The Great Seventies Recordings.

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.

Junkie and the JuiceheadAs we reach 1974, we begin to really hit diminishing returns in Johnny Cash’s still voluminous output. This is the 19th year since he first stepped into a Sun Records recording both, and 15 years since he signed with Columbia Records. Unfortunately, there’s not much to celebrate on the Junkie and the Juicehead Minus Me. While Cash was often highly focused on his musical projects, having released concept albums, gospel albums, Christmas albums, and more, but this release is a true hodge-podge.

For the second time, Cash is self-producing with the assistance of studio engineer Charlie Bragg in the comfort of his home studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee.  In some regards, the sound continues in the vein of his last few albums, offering the laid-back early 70s version of his boom chicka boom sound provided by the Tennessee Three plus Carl Perkins. A shift also begins, though, with session musicians entering the fray more frequently. While this allows Johnny to explore new styles, it pulls away from the cohesiveness that always marks Johnny’s best efforts.

What this is the Junkie and the Juicehead, Minus Me? That’s a hard one to answer. Old bluegrass tunes sit alongside seventies singer-songwriter story songs. His wife, daughter and stepdaughters share the mic. It’s got dark songs of struggle and flippant gospel numbers.  In short, it’s a mess.

Perhaps it is best viewed as another family album, although where Family Christmas saw Johnny’s inner circle sitting by the fire trading sentimental stories and songs, this one is far darker. In the middle of the album are two June Carter Cash numbers. The first, Ole Slew Foot, is a hoe-down take on the Johnny Horton tale of a bear, filled with banjo and fiddle. It concludes with Johnny’s girls roasting him, “He’s big around the middle and he’s broad across the rump… some folks say he looks a lot like Daddy.” The second is a by-the-numbers take of the Carter Family classic, “Keep on the Sunny Side” with everyone pitching in.

Where June’s tracks harken back to an older country style, the kids’ contributions push towards a modern folk-rock sound.  A teenage Roseanne Cash makes her recording debut singing Kristofferson’s Broken Freedom Song, a heart-breaking tale which lifts one Vietnam vet’s tragedy to a cosmic level.  Roseanne give it a poignant woman’s perspective, but hasn’t yet developed her voice. Rosie Nix Adams – June’s daughter from her second marriage – duets with Johnny on Cat Steven’s touching ballad, Father and Son, here rendered as Father and Daughter. Carlene Carter also makes her debut, listed here as Carlene Routh, following her recent marriage to songwriter Jack Routh. Already onto her second marriage and only eighteen, she gives a palpable sense of longing to her husband’s tune, Friendly Gates.

If the kids are pushing Johnny towards folk rock, he seems keen to pursue modern songs, as well. In addition to Broken Freedom Song, he also offers a further Kris Kristofferson tune in the title track. Junkie and the Juicehead is classic Kris, a tale of a down-and-out songwriter struggling to make it in Nashville. That said, the production on the tune is big and boomy with lots of reverb, and one can only wish this one had a simpler approach. Elsewhere, Johnny explores two more tunes by his son-in-law Jack Routh, beyond Carlene’s contribution. Crystal Chandeliers and Burgundy is the best of the three, a tale of hobo life with a strong Kristofferson influence. The closing track, Lay Back with My Woman, is the story of a cowboy who hangs his spurs up for good.  Played by studio musicians, it’s fine but lacking in character.

Johnny himself offers three tunes. The first is a new recording of Don’t Take Your Guns to Town played with a shuffle beat. It’s completely unnecessary, except that it’s the only track on the album that feels like Carl Perkins made any contributions. I Do Believe is a forgettable boom-chicka-boom number about a many trying to win his lover back. Last, Billy and Rex and Oral and Bob is a tribute to great gospel preachers (Billy Graham, Rex Humbard, Oral Roberts, and Bob Jones). While Cash’s admiration for these men is sincere, as a song it’s an awkward waltz that falls flat.

That leaves one final tune, a gospel duet with June entitled  J-E-S-U-S. It’s a corny, upbeat, alliterative tale of salvation that has hardly become a Sunday school classic in the intervening years. This one was recorded for Johnny Cash and his Woman, but was cut. It should have stayed that way.

All in all, this is a disappointing Cash release. While his children’s influence pushed him in new directions, Johnny ultimately feels lost on this one, unable to do anything inventive with 70s folk rock, unable to generate engaging material of his own, and mired in the same old, same old with his wife June.

2.5/5

Other songs from the era:

  • My Ship Will Sail – In October 1974, Johnny recorded nine songs in two days with his band. This is the only one to be released, and it’s a fine piece of southern gospel. Released on Ultimate Gospel.

Pa OsterakerAt Folsom Prison and At San Quentin are two of the greatest live albums, period. In fact, it’s quite astonishing that after the massive success of Folsom, Johnny could come back with an entirely new set of material in a similar context so quickly. På Österåker, then, is a strange beast because it begs the question, “do we really need another live prison album?!?” And, of course, the next question is obviously, “and what’s the deal with Sweden?” The answer to the first is, yes, and to the second, because he could.

På Österåker is a 1973 live album from Johnny Cash recorded in a Swedish prison. Just as San Quentin was entirely different from Folsom, På Österåker is yet another entirely different document of Johnny’s live show. The biggest difference between Folsom and Quentin was the death of guitarist Luther Perkins, replaced by Bob Wooten with additional support from the great Carl Perkins. Where in ’69 Wooten got the job because he was an impeccable Perkins copycat, by ’73 the band had released seven studio albums (several produced by pianist Larry Butler), a handful of singles, and hosted a successful TV variety show (with an accompanying soundtrack). Factor in the strong influence of Kris Kristofferson’s songwriting, and in a very short time span, a new Johnny Cash sound had emerged. The early 70s Johnny Cash sound was relaxed and comfortable, well suited to the narrative approach to songwriting he was increasingly adopting. Clean from drugs, the frenetic, minimalism of his boom-chicka-boom sound had evolved into a friendlier beast. Folsom had brought Johnny unprecedented success for a country artist (a compilation released the previous year was entitled International Superstar), and so he found himself singing in a Swedish Prison.

The album, while lacking the fire of his two previous prison albums, is fantastic and entirely fresh. Of the twelve songs included on the original release, only two were previously released: his recent single Help Me Make It Through the Night and an obscure track from his 1959 gospel album Hymns, I Saw a Man. The rest is all original material, a concept he tested on the San Quentin album, but that few other artists dare attempt. The rich vein of new songs makes this an essential part of any Johnny Cash collection.

So what do we get song-wise? Again, of his three prison albums, this one goes the farthest in focusing on prison matters.  Indeed, there are seven prison songs on the album, and four tunes written by inmates themselves. Album opener Orleans Parish Prison – written by Dick Feller, who also penned Cash’s Any Old Wind That Blows – is a cracking tune about missing an imprisoned brother. It’s followed by Jacob Green, a brutal acoustic tune about a man who kills himself after suffering the indignities of jail while locked up on a drug charge. The Prisoner’s Song and The Invertebraes, both written by prisoners, are a longing ballad and a somber poem, respectively. City Jail finds Johnny rehashing his Starkville City Jail story to an improved upbeat melody. Life of a Prisoner is another convict-written tune, this time about prison farms, and Glen Sherley (of Folsom’s Greystone Chapel fame) and Harlen Sanders return to Cash’s songwriting fold with Looking Back in Anger, a confessional tale of turning away from a life of crime. The best really is saved for the last, though. June Carter Cash’s Nobody Cared is a brutal tale of a prisoner’s revenge on a sadistic guard, all set to a bouncy tune. In a mere two minutes Johnny tells as harrowing a story as he ever has.

The non-prison songs cast a veil of longing and sadness.  When Johnny takes on Kristofferson’s Me and Bobby McGee, the classic chorus, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” takes on unmined layers of depth that even Janis Joplin hadn’t explored. Gene Autry’s classic son-to-father apology, That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine, again takes on a fresh perspective when sung in a prison. The desperation of Help Me Make It… is masterfully told, and then the album closer I Saw a Man is a glorious hymn of redemption, leading to a an instrumental fade-out of Folsom Prison Blues.

Top to bottom, it’s a great album. Yes, Larry Butler’s piano playing is schmaltzy, but it’s kept under reins this time around. My only other criticism would be the fade outs between songs, leaving for a sometimes disjointed feeling. Again, though, Cash succeeds this time round because, rather than rehashing the past for a bit of extra cash, he presents a unique artistic vision. Plus, it’s fun to hear Cash try his hand at a Swedish greeting…

4.5/5

Other songs from the era:

  • Orleans Parish Prison/Jacob Green – this was the single from the album and both tunes are consistent with the album versions. The presence of the fiddle on Orleans Parish Prison is a hint that this had been tampered with in the studio. Indeed it had. Both the album and single had a verse cut and the fiddle overdubbed. The unedited version is restored for the 35th anniversary edition, while the single/original album version is available on the Complete Columbia Album Collection and the Murder compilation.
  • The 35th Anniversary Edition  is a wonderful value, offering the unedited concert. How does it differ? First, we get a traditional Cash concert opening through an instrumental I Walk the Line. Then we’re treated to a few classic hits: a blistering version of A Boy Named Sue, his recent hit Sunday Morning Coming Down, and the prison tune San Quentin here refashioned to great applause as Österåker. This version of Sunday Morning, stripped of the orchestral accompaniment of the original single (taken from The Johnny Cash Show),  is the definitive version. With the audience now in the palm of his hands, we move into many of the new songs Johnny released on the original album. Me and Bobby McGee precedes rather than follows Orleans Parish Prison and Jacob Green, likely because the latter two served as the album’s single. Life of a Prisoner and The Prisoner’s Song are followed by Folsom Prison Blues, which while still great is missing Luther’s magic touch, and then wraps up a quintet of prison songs with City Jail. Help Me Make It Through the Night and That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine become a little respite from the jail songs, before returning to The Invertebraes. That poem becomes a turning point, leading into the final two reflections in the main set: Lookin’ Back in Anger and I Saw a Man. It’s a well thought out setlist that flows very well, especially given half of the songs are new. Carl Perkins then gives Johnny a break, performing High Heel Sneakers and Blue Suede Shoes, using a much cleaner tone than on previous live releases. Johnny then returns with a few fun numbers: a full-band version of Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog, a relaxed, loose take on Wreck of the Old ’97, and a tribute to June in his A Thing Called Love ballad I Promise You (written on their wedding day). The encores then close on a dark note, returning to prison life again with June’s Nobody Cared, a faithful take on San Quentin, and the instrumental Folsom Prison Blues to close it out. The original LP can be hard to find as it received limited release outside Europe (I shouldn’t have passed on a copy spotted at the great Sister Ray’s while on a visit to London). Recent years have remedied this. The 35th Anniversary Edition is easily found (I got it cheap in Walmart), and the original album is included in the Complete Columbia boxset.

Johnny Cash and His WomanThe first Johnny Cash album I ever bought was a bargain-basement compilation called Giant Hits. Alongside classics like Ring of Fire and A Boy Named Sue, was a lesser-known tune The City of New Orleans. At the time I knew nothing of Cash’s history, or the rise-and-fall (and rise again) of his career). All I knew was it was a catchy little train song that sounded right at home amongst his truly giant hits. Like New Orleans, which opens side two, Johnny Cash and His Woman is an oft-forgotten entry in Cash’s catalogue that is surprisingly one of his better releases of the decade.

There are many strikes against this album. The cover – a live shot of June and Johnny with a black background – makes it look like a budget compilation, especially if you find a worn copy in a used shop. Don Law – Johnny’s main producer in the 60s – stepped behind the controls again and yet the album seems to be poorly recorded at times. Johnny only contributes two songs of his own, and the rest are from a mish-mash of lesser known songwriters. And, admittedly, it is mostly another laid-back seventies Johnny Cash album, with no real fireworks on display.

A natural comparator for this album would be the 1967 collaboration with June, Carryin’ On. Again, though, this release is a different breed. There’s no duet for the ages like they found in Jackson, but neither is there an absolute dud like Fast Boat to Sydney. Where he was wild and unfettered in ’67, he’s a much calmer family man in ’73. The album is largely just the Tennessee Three – with Carl Perkins still along for the ride and newly added third (!) guitarist, Johnny’s nephew David Jones contributing as well – and is left free (for the most part) of the syrupy arrangements that became increasingly frequent in the 70s. This is Johnny and his musical family enjoying their time together.

So why should we pay any attention to Johnny Cash and His Woman? In short, there are some great songs. Opener The Color of Love is a raucous, June-led barnburner by Jackson writer Billy Edd Wheeler that explores the realities of love:

And I thought love was spelled like a bell B-E-double L bell that you ring

Stead of wham bam hit your man with a pan

Hit him on the head and listen to the birdies sing

Oh you heart breakin’ love makin’ cut-me-a-piece-of-bacon man of mine

Oh you money shiftin’ flour siftin’ nose liftin’ rose of woman kind

 

June is wild again on Allegheny, hooting and hollering her way through a story of a love affair marked by theft, cheating and murder. And The City of New Orleans is as perfect a locomotive tune as Johnny every recorded. Penned by rising folk sensation Steve Goodman in 1971, and made a hit by Arlo Guthrie in 1972, Johnny performs a knock-out version of this song that seems custom tailored for Johnny. While June growls her way through the previous two upbeat numbers, she offers some of her most tasteful harmonies ever on this one’s chorus.

There are several strong ballads on here as well. Saturday Night In Hickman County, written by Johnny, showcases an acoustic guitar and Cash’s booming voice to create a truly classic Johnny Cash moment. An overlooked gem in Cash’s catalogue this is as plain and real as a document of small town life can get. It’s matched on the second side by Tony, another solo acoustic number, that is a brutally heartwrenching tale of a rodeo duo.  Three further love duets – Life Has Its Little Ups And Downs about a poor couple who are rich in love, Wheeler’s The Pine Tree about suspicion in love, and the syrupy We’re for Love – are somewhat forgettable, but better filler than the joke songs on Carryin’ On.

Sadly, the two gospel tunes included here are less than impressive. Musically, they’re both fun. With gospel pianist Larry Butler no longer providing the arrangements, Johnny has lost that “big 70s gospel sound” found on his previous few releases. Instead, Don Law manages to get a warm family feel to the gospel tunes. The problem is the songwriting. Johnny wrote Matthew 24 (Is Knocking at the Door), and its clearly influenced by the apocalyptic influence of 70s Southern evangelicalism to which he was increasingly exposed. He sings, “the Army ranks in red are near two hundred million deep”, seeing the rise of communism as a prophetic sign of Christ’s return. Although not an uncommon sentiment forty years ago, those links didn’t come to fruition… sadly most preachers of that ilk are now making the same links to events in the Middle East. I remain of the persuasion that if Jesus said he’d come like a thief in the night, his followers shouldn’t be guessing when he’s coming again… On the other hand, closing tune Godshine is innocuous enough, but filled with hoaky wordplay that is still found in Southern gospel today: “Well Jesus is the beam on the left of me, Comin’ right through the shadow on the right”. I wish he’d stick to those desparate hymns he sang so sincerely before…

Despite a couple of weak gospel numbers, a few forgettable ballads, some muddy production, and a crap cover, Johnny Cash and His Woman is actually a release to hunt down. Don Law strips back the orchestration and lets the Tennessee Three (and friends) just play. Cash’s voice is in fine form and when the material shines, it really shines.

4/5

Other Songs from the Era

  • Praise The Lord And Pass The Soup (with the Carter Family and the Oak Ridge Boys)/Ballad Of Barbara (with the Carter Family): In 1973 the Oak Ridge Boys were an established gospel quartet on the verge of major success. They solidified a line-up that would last for 15 years and they signed a deal with Columbia. Ready to shift towards mainstream country, Columbia had them back Johnny up on this loving gospel tribute to Christian soup kitchens everywhere. The b-side is a syrupy ballad about a country boy who moves north and marries a city girl, only to find his dreams suffocated by the world of concrete and steel.
  • Pick The Wildwood Flower (with Maybelle Carter)/Diamonds In The Rough (with Maybelle Carter): A fun single about hard country living, centred on Ma Carter’s classic guitar riff from her signature tune, Wildwood Flower. Don’t miss the glorious instrumental coda! Tucked away on the b-side is a waltz-time acoustic gospel song that tops anything else Cash released in 1973. In fact, I think it’s the best gospel tune Cash released between Hymns and My Mother’s Hymn Book.  A stone-cold classic not to be missed. Maybelle even sings harmony on this one.
  • Personal File: Now rebranded as Bootleg Vol. 1, in 2006 Columbia released a two-disc compilation of home recordings by Cash. The majority of Disc One was recorded in 1973 and gives a window into Cash’s world as a living songbook. Some of the songs are familiar to Cash fans: There’s a Mother Always Waiting was first recorded as an outtake from Hymns from the Heart, Drink To Me If Only with Thine Eyes was the inspiration for Songs of our Soil’s Drink to Me, and two Johnny Horton numbers recorded in the sixties – When It’s Springtime in Alaska and Girl in Saskatoon – pop up again. Others are numbers he would look to later in his career: Jim, I Wore a Tie Today (Highwaymen) and Tiger Whitehead (Children’s Album). And It’s All Over is a bit of both – first demoed in 1958, he would finally put it down as a single in 1976. The majority of these songs, though, are just Cash singing what he wants to sing and telling the stories behind them. We’re offered a smorgasbord of traditionals, and country/folk classics: The Letter Edged In Black, The Engineer’s Dying Child, My Mother Was A Lady, Far Away Places, Galway Bay, When I Stop Dreaming, I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen, Missouri Waltz, Louisiana Man, I Don’t Believe You Wanted To Leave, Saginaw, Michigan, and the Robert Service poem The Cremation Of Sam McGee. Over the years a few more songs from this era have trickled out. A PBS promotion brought out More Files From Johnny’s Personal File which included House on the Hill, Doesn’t Anybody Know My Name, Miller’s Cave, and an early version of I’m Ragged but I’m Right. A bonus disc from House of Cash – written by Johnny’s son – also included Kathy.

The Gospel RoadHow do you review Johnny’s longest album, The Gospel Road – A Story of Jesus, Told and Sung by Johnny Cash? Even the title is exhausting!

This 1973 release is both a triumph and a tragedy. Even in his darkest years of addiction and isolation, Christianity was never far from Johnny’s heart. As he began rebuilding his life in the late 1960s, the faith of Johnny’s childhood became a driving force in his life.  By the early 1970s, he was a friend of evangelist Billy Graham (among others, including Hank Snow’s son), and felt an increasing passion to make a film about the life of his savior, Jesus Christ.

So here we have the fruit of his labour in the form of a 76-track soundtrack. As it turns out, this is less of a soundtrack and, instead, largely a rip of the film’s audio. The film is a fairly straightforward telling of Jesus’ life with Cash narrating, and a string of songs old and new tying the story together. It has none of the controversy of Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ, nor the shocking brutality of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. The tone here is one of reverence and warmth.

It was a triumph in that Cash actually managed to do it. Few would have the resources and wherewithal to film a full-blown religious movie in the Holy Land, particularly one with as  little film experience as Johnny Cash (he starred in a couple of b-movies). Moreover, we see in this depiction of Christ a friendliness exhibited through his relationships with the disciples and children. Cash often sang many gospel tunes of desperation, calling out to his Lord in a time of need, and it is the evocation of a compassionate God that really shines through here.

The tragedy, is that not only is the film rather dull (as movies of Jesus can be), but it never reached the wide audience he’d intended.  Cash had invested himself in large personal projects before, including his first gospel album Hymns, and the many historical concept albums he released in the 60s (Ballads of the True West, Bitter Tears…). In moving into the film world, though, he was moving way out his comfort zone. He cast too many friends in the film, resulting in wooden performances. Worse, though, Cash simply didn’t know the business of making movies, so when it was all wrapped (an accomplishment in itself considering it was filmed on location in Israel), he couldn’t find a distribution partner. Hoping it would be picked up by a Hollywood Studio and shown everywhere, he was eventually saved by his friend Billy Graham, whose organization picked up the film and used it as an evangelism tool. While Johnny had hoped to use the film to proclaim his Lord to the world, he had hoped to use traditional entertainment channels to reach a wider audience.

An even greater tragedy was the rift this experience caused with Cash’s long-time manager Saul Holiff. Holiff had carried Johnny through those darkest hours of the mid-late 60s, smoothing over relationships with promoters when Cash was a no-show or wasted on stage, and helping him rebuild his career through the prison albums and then his TV show. In the early 70s, though, Cash’s evangelistic bent strained the relationship with Holiff. Cash, and evidently June even moreso, became irritated that Holiff wouldn’t join them when they sang at a Billy Graham Crusade. In Holiff’s mind, there was nothing to manage – this wasn’t a paid performance, it was Johnny and June choosing to charity work they were passionate about. For Cash, though, it was a personal slight. When Johnny wanted to spend a fortune filming an unsellable movie about Jesus in Israel, one can imagine what Holiff’s response would have been. Sadly, this was the beginning of the end of their relationship, and by the end of 1973, Holiff “retired” from the music business and moved north to Canada.

What, then, of the music? Despite the endless number of tracks (76 on the CD issue, 77 on my LP), there are really only ten songs on here, several of which are drawn from Johnny’s back catalogue. Motifs from the tunes are used as background music throughout the film as well. Overall the music is what you would expect of Cash approaching gospel music in the early 70s. The Statler Brothers and Carter Family are featured frequently, providing a wall of harmonies. The backing is simple acoustic guitars on the quieter moments, and the tic-tock, boom-chicka-boom of the Tennesse Three (still with Carl Perkins) on the upbeat numbers. And there are strings everywhere. Thankfully, as with his previous album Any Old Wind That Blows, the strings are generally tasteful. After the overblown gospel choruses on A Thing Called Love, producer Larry Butler, now a Cash regular, seemed to find a balance between the Tennessee Three’s sound and larger orchestral arrangements that previous producers – Bob Johnston, Don Law, Frank Jones – could not.

What of the songs, then? Two we already know. He Turned the Water Into Wine was first recorded for 1968’s The Holy Land. It’s straightforward narrative of Jesus’ miracles is interspersed in four parts through the telling of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus Was a Carpenter, from 1970’s Hello, I’m Johnny Cash is also broken up, sung first as we approach the crucifixion, and then, powerfully, the last verse, which pulls Jesus’ story into a contemporary context, sung a cappella at the conclusion of the film.

A few tunes are heavy with narrative. Opener Praise the Lord works well, setting the powerful prophecy of Isaiah 9 (“A people that once walked in darkness have seen a great light…”) to an acoustic backing. The Last Supper is less so. The Statlers join in and the song builds from a cappella to full band, but the clumsy telling of the Last Supper is forgettable. Children, too, is a forgettable number, despite being drawn from one of the more enjoyable scenes of the film.

The rest of the material, though, is quite good. Gospel Road is a fun boom-chicka-boom number that sets the tone for Jesus’ travelling preaching, and is in many ways a gospel version of Ride This Train. I See Men as Trees Walking (debuted a year earlier at the Jesus Explosion festival) is a fun, upbeat telling of a blind man healed by Jesus. Follow Me is a beautiful recasting of the John Denver classic, with June Carter singing it as Mary Magdalene. Hearing the song in a new context is wonderfully refreshing.

Then we are left with the two most powerful numbers on the album. Help Me is a Larry Gatlin number which fits Cash’s religious view well. Here we have a simple ballad of a man crying out to God sungin parts by Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge and Larry Gatlin. The second part – a stripped down verse with only Kristofferson – works best thanks to its simplicity and heartfelt performance. Then we have Kristofferson’s own Burden of Freedom. Another acoustic ballad, it is also broken into segments. The final verse is sung by Cash in what might be his most frail vocal performance until his Rick Rubin recordings decades later. As Jesus is crucified, Cash’s voice breaks:

Lord, help me to shoulder the burden of freedom
And give me the courage to be what I can

This is truly one of the most powerful moments in Cash’s vast discography.

Evaluating this album, then, is a difficult task. Despite some excellent music, as a whole, the album doesn’t work. I find the mood changes too abrupt – the first LP is light and buoyant, gurgling along with Perkins guitar through the Gospel Road. The second LP is heavy with narrative of Jesus’ death, bogged down by overwrought musical backing. Listening to the full set in one listen is a long haul. What would have worked far better would be a true soundtrack: “Songs from The Gospel Road.” An abridged narration by Johnny (similar to Ride This Train or America) could have tied the songs together and told the story in a far more efficient manner than simply handing over the entire film’s dialogue. It would also allow us to hear each song in their entirety rather than chopped up verse by verse.

At the end of the day, the songs are good, but the album is not… a triumph and a tragedy in one.

3/5

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).