|A plethora of Johnny Cash tribute albums have been released over the years -- and a few recent
ones have sold especially well - but Johnny's Blues
isn't just another tribute to the Man in Black. Not only is the emphasis on blues (as the title states), but, as
with the obscure "'Till Things Are Brighter"
tribute from 1988, none of the artists featured are actual country artists. A few of them even admit to having
discovered the man's music only in recent years.
Since "Johnny's Blues" is a Canadian initiative, four tracks are by some of that country's best blues performers. Blues singer Paul Reddick sings "Train of Love" while Blackie & The Rodeo Kings and Colin Linden (the album's executive producer) contribute "Folson Prison Blues" and "Big River" respectively. Harry Manx, a man who adeptly mixes blues with Indian music does a beautiful version of "Long Black Veil."
In conformity with Cash's styles, the performers on "Johnny's Blues" keep things simple even when they rely on a hard-edged electric sound. On "Walking The Blues", Maria Muldaur is accompanied only by guitarist Del Rey. Chis Thomas King draws from the Cash and Leadbelly versions for his rendition of "Rock Island Line", with only his 12-string guitar as accompaniment.
In his first recording in years, Garland Jeffreys offers a simple, straightforward rendition of "I Walk The Line", while Sleepy LaBeef sounds as if he's accompanied by The Tennessee Three on "Frankie's Man Johnny". Corey Harris had never heard "Redemption" until he was asked to contribute to the album, but the unplugged reggae-tinged treatment he gives it works just fine. Mavis Staples closes the album strongly with "Will The Circle Be Unbroken". Other contributors are Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and Kevin Breit. This is the proper way to do a tribute album.