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Reviews


Jason Wesley
Blueswax
Summer, 2003 



more reviews of Johnny's Blues: A Tribute to Johnny Cash
 
Anyone who ever doubted that the Man in Black decades singing the Blues need doubt no longer. Few American artists have had as universal impact on the music as Johnny Cash. Long ago it became impossible to specifically define Cash in a niche, he may we be American music. His songs of loss, pain, joy, love and virtually every other emotion experienced by modern man have offered words of solace and inspiration to many of us. It is in his expression of emotion that one finds Johnny's Blues.

Fred Litwin and NorthernBlues Music have scored another win with this tribute to the Blues of Johnny Cash. A word of warning, there are some who might cringe at the unique interpretations of what might be considered sacred roll. In fact none of the versions presented here are "true" to the recordings of the Man In Black. But they couldn't be truer to the rebel spirit of a man who seems to bow only to mother, God and country. These selections show the immense versatility and the timeless nature of Johnny Cash's canon. While based in the Blues, the takes on these songs, all Cash-writes or performance standards, range across the musical landscape like a transcontinental freight. On this train we travel through Gospel, hard rockin' Blues, Jazz, Country Blues and even to the fringes of Psychedelic Folk and Garage music.

The disc opens up with a huge, roaring acoustic Blues jam with producer Colin Linden on electric Dobro and Paul Reddick singing and playing harp in front of a tight band. This presentation of Cash' "
Train of Love" is outstanding. We immediately sense the universality of Cash's lyrics when Reddick and Linden harmonize on the hook line "Every so often everybody's baby gets the urge to roam, but everybody's baby but mine's come home."

This is followed by a cool vocal duet by Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Benjy Davis on the classic "
Get Rhythm," featuring some jazzy licks from Brown. Maria Muldaur shows why she is one of the finest vocalist in the Blues today on "Walking The Blues." One of Johnny Cash's hits was his own interpretation of the traditional "Rock Island Line." This song has been credited to Leadbelly and Chris Thomas King's version shows those roots.

Sometimes the simplest songs say the most and are the hardest to perform, especially when the entire world knows it well. Garland Jeffreys says in the liner notes, "
I Walk The Line is a country classic...I hope I've done it justice." Indeed he does with possibly the finest interpretation on an album of fine such work. Jeffreys, accompanied by an acoustic band featuring perfect accordion by Tony Cedras, hits it dead on perfect. Nice work!

The is little doubt that "
Folsom Prison Blues" is one of the greatest Country Blues songs. Few fans of American music wouldn't recognize that melody. Here Blackie & The Rodeo Kings take it down and dirty in a rollicking almost psychedelic interpretation with some cool changes. It grows on you. Harry Manx is one of the best acoustic guitarist around and here he offers up a beautiful and personalized version of the great Country classic "Long Black Veil." Alvin Youngblood Hart delivers a great version of the Kris Kristofferson classic "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down."

A contemporary of Cash, Sleepy LaBeef, does Cash's "
Frankie's Man Johnny." Corey Harris is a master of Roots music and his "Redemption" is proof. Kevin Briet is another great interpreter of songs and his instrumental of "Send a Picture of Mother" brings the words of this song to mind easily.

The best song about the Mississippi River is Cash's "
Big River" and Colin Linden rips out a rockin' version here. The album closes with Mavis Staples a great arrangement of the traditional "Will The Circle Be Unbroken."

This is one of the better tribute albums this reviewer has heard, if only because it dares to present classics in a new light that shows their ever-expanding possibility. With work like this there is little doubt about the longevity of the work of Johnny Cash.

Rated: 8 out of 10
 


"While based in the Blues, the takes on these songs, all Cash-writes or performance standards, range across the musical landscape like a transcontinental freight. On this train we travel through Gospel, hard rockin' Blues, Jazz, Country Blues and even to the fringes of Psychedelic Folk and Garage music."