Johnny's Blues: A Tribute to Johnny Cash - Reviews


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"How does a bunch of Canucks get the nerve to, not only touch an American icon, but to do so with a purely American form of expression?

"...One man's music has inspired countless millions of souls, all who will make their own contribution to this game we call civilization. To that effect, this album serves to answer that question; yes, the circle will remain unbroken."

-Danté Dominick
January, 2004 


"This is the proper way to do a tribute album."

-Paul E. Comeau
September 19. 2003 


"Johnny's Blues wasn't intended as a posthumous release but, after the loss of one of music's true originals, this album serves as a mighty fine tribute to the music of the Man In Black. The liner notes contain a short piece by each artist, and Harry Manx freely admits to Cash ignorance until this project. After turning in a haunting version of Long Black Veil, it's safe to assume he is a new convert. Garland Jeffreys keeps close to the original sound of I Walk The Line. Blackie & The Rodeo Kings are given the honour of delivering one of Cash's more famous couplets, "I shot a man in Reno / just to watch him die", on a slowed down and downright gutsy Folsom Prison Blues. Alvin Youngblood Heart delivers a fine version of Kris Kristoffersons's strongest contribution to Cash's songbook, Sunday Morning Coming Down, and no one else is better qualified than Mavis Staples to bring this album home with Will The Circle Be Unbroken. 4½ STARS (out of 5)."

-Tom Jellett
The Weekend Australian
October 4/5, 2003 


"Northern Blues is a label to watch. Closely. Their track record this year is stunning. Now they manage to avoid the train wreck nature of most tribute releases. They keep it simple, acoustic wood and electric spank behind voices caked with miles and miles of road. Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown comments in the liner notes, "Johnny Cash understands the secret of simplicity. Simplicity is the hardest thing to achieve." This collection achieves that hard thing in stellar versions from Harry Manx, Maria Muldaur, Alvin Youngblood Hart and producer Colin Linden's own spin on "Big River" that'd make any fan of Johnny's original or the Dead's concert staple grin. Maybe Linden paid attention to Cash's American Recordings series because there's a similar vibe here. Play the good song and play it well. Seems simple but few know how to restrain excess especially when attempting to honor an influence. Not a dud in the bunch, they've gathered thirteen tracks that will appeal to fans of Cash or those interested in true blues music happening today."

-Dennis Cook
October, 2003 


"Johnny Cash is as American as working hard and dying young. But a Canadian production from a group of mostly Canadian artists bring it all back home with Johnny's Blues. This tribute disc is so well done, it's a companion piece to Cash's own catalog. Cash's superior, under-remarked songwriting skill is confirmed by the fact that his songs work so well on disparate styles: Maria Muldaur's Memphis Minnie-like "Walking the Blues"; Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Benjy Davis' West Coast swing version of "Get Rhythm"; Garland Jeffrey's country shuffling "I Walk The Line." Sleepy LaBeef is respectful but uncowed with his "no flies on me" performance of "Frankie's Man Johnny." In fact, LaBeef would be MVP but for Corey Harris' eerie cliché-defying afro/ska interpretation of "Redemption." Man and artist, Cash deserves the Lincolnesque reverence he attracts. Johnny's Blues honors and inspires deeper interest in its subject and in those who came to pay their respect. All this and Mavis Staples, too."

-Rick Allen
Harp Magazine
November, 2003 


"In which 13 Johnny Cash songs are given a bluesy makeover. It could have been a dreary, but the artists (including Maria Muldaur, Mavis Staples and Garland Jeffreys) are an inspired mix of rootsy and creative, each bringing something different and imaginative. Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's swinging Get Rhythm is as basic as it gets, but elsewhere there are well-worked Rastafari beats, sitars, mariachi trumpets with National Steel Guitar and electric blues rock with backwards guitar. Heartily recommended. 4 stars (out of 5)"

-Ian Cranna
Q Magazine
October 2003 


"Somewhere in his musical imagination Johnny Cash may have heard his songs dressed up this way by full-tilt, authentic practitioners of roadhouse rock and country blues, including Paul Reddick, Maria Muldaur, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Chris Thomas King, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Mavis Staples, Garland Jeffreys and Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, among others, but he has eve been able to cast off the characteristic trappings of his own entrenched country-based style to attempt it. But Canadian guitarist/producer Colin Linden, who produced this brilliant reinterpretation of several Cash originals, songs by others Cash made his own, and lesser gems, is up to the task. It's amazing to hear how, in the right hands, Cash's folksy songs assume such an official blues quality. Muldaur's version of "Walking The Blues" is elemental Depression-era stuff, Chris Thomas King takes "The Rock Island Line" right back to its field holler origins, and Linden and his Rodeo Kings colleagues go straight to the source of the grungy, world-weary rage from which "Folsom Prison Blues" sprang and which Cash never could master. There's not a dud in the set."

-Greg Quill
Toronto Star
July 31, 2003 


"Not that anyone in their right mind would ever question Johnny Cash's musical legacy, but this third tribute album to the Man in Black in the past year only further attests to the country king's extraordinary influence with the generations of performers who've followed his lead.

The twist to this set is that it focuses on the blues roots of some of Cash's darker works. And while there are a few names here to match the star power of earlier tributes like last year's "
Kindred Spirits," there are numerous first-rate contributions.

Among the most inspired offerings is Blackie & The Rodeo Kings electrically charged "
Folsom Prison Blues," while other tracks like Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Benjy Davis' "Get Rhythm," takes that rhythm right under the radar with scintillating results.

Harry Manx and three superb backing vocalists bring an easy western blues feel to the classic "
Long Black Veil," while the recently resurfaced Garland Jeffreys offers a vivid reminder of his immense talent on a faithful take of "I Walk The Line."

-Staten Island Sunday Advance
July 20, 2003 


"This Cd has been in the works for some time. Thought up by the folks at NorthernBlues Music in Toronto, they have done a superb job compiling the work, not only in the songs they picked, but of the incredible talent used in the making. It is a variety of blues musicians playing Johnny's songs for this tribute that starts off with Paul Reddick and "Train of Love". A good version with Paul on harmonica. Gatemouth Brown with Benjy Davis recites "Get Rhythm" in the best possible way. The sweet Maria Muldaur is "Walking The Blues" with her lowdown version that even Johnny must be proud of. Chris Thomas King does a double influenced version of "Rock Island Line" intertwining both Leadbelly's original and Johnny's version. Garland Jeffreys is nervous in "I Walk The Line" also done well as he kicks in that rock-a-billy sound. Blackie & The Rodeo Kings break out with "Folsom Prison Blues", a country-rock version worth a listen. Harry Manx shines as he performs the haunting ballad "Long Black Veil," a gospel piece which reveals the dark side of the Man in Black. Alvin Youngblood Hart does a great version of "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" showing his versatile guitar work. A great addition to the CD was getting Sleepy LaBeef to express his baritone voice in the classic "Frankie's Man Johnny" Corey Harris performs "Redemption" and Kevin Breit does "Send a Picture of Mother". My favorite Cash tune is "Big River" and Colin Linden performs it with ease and grace. Mavis Staples sings the gospel staple "Will the Circle Be Unbroken", a great rendition and fitting end to the tribute. It seems like a lot of hard work went into this project and it shows. Other than a couple imperfections, this gem is quite good, and the different styles make it fun to listen to. 4 1/2 hats (out of 5)"

-Dirk Wissbaum
Big City Blues
August/September 2003 


"This excellent tribute disc features blues, roots and gospel artists performing a Johnny Cash song, though not necessarily as blues. Paul Reddick gets things off to a good start with a slide-guitar-and-harmonica rendition of "Train of Love." Gatemouth Brown swings on "Get Rhythm", Blackie & The Rodeo Kings perform a get-down, barrelhouse-piano version of "Folsom Prison Blues", and vocalist Maria Muldaur wails on "Walking The Blues."

On "
Will The Circle Be Unbroken", Mavis Staples sings a soulful vocal, while Jim Weider's slide guitar and Paul Merten's bass harmonica provides soulful accompaniment. B.C. singer-guitarist Harry Manx puts his personal stamp on "Long Black Veil", and Toronto musician Kevin Breit, currently touring with Norah Jones, plays a half-dozen instruments on "Send a Picture of Mother", which starts out a mid-tempo guitar number, then becomes a joyous mariachi-band piece."

-Marke Andrews
Vancouver Sun
August 16, 2003 


Every once in a while you pick up a CD and you know just by reading the cover it's likely to be a gem. This is just such an effort.

To start with this is a tribute to Johnny Cash. I grew up pretty much steeped in country music, and no one is better at pure country music than Johnny Cash. The repertoire of his music must rank as one of the best portfolios of music by any country performer. When you start from such a strong base musically, you're a long way toward having a good album.

Now in this case, NorthernBlues Records has taken 13 of Johnny Cash's best recognized songs, and applied a blues twist to them.

It might seem strange to take country and give it a blues treatment, but the two musics have similar roots, so it's just a matter of twisting two branches of music together. In this case, it's an easy conversion too.

The last piece of the puzzle on this one is the selection of musicians to create the tribute.

Maria Muldaur does a wonderful job on "
Walking the Blues", Chris Thomas King gives a memorable interpretation to "Rock Island Line", Colin Linden has "Big River", while Blackie & The Rodeo Kings do a soulful "Folsom Prison Blues."

The end result is this album all comes together to become a prized addition to any collection, whether you are a Cash fan, like country with a twist, or are into the blues.

This one should be marked a must have. Thoroughly outstanding. 9-out-of-10"

Yorkton This Week
July 23, 2003 


"There are several Johnny Cash tributes, and blues artists have gathered to pay somewhat lame tributes to the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and other rock icons. But NorthernBlues' release of "Johnny's Blues" is a fun salute to don't just copy the original recordings but interpret the signature tunes creatively. Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown swings "Get Rhythm" Texas style. Chris Thomas King takes "Rock Island Line" back to its roots by playing it as a folk tune. Maria Muldaur (with Seattle's own Del Rey on guitar) goes for traditional acoustic blues with Cash's "Walking The Blues", while Corey Harris gives "Redemption" an African feel. The set's producer, Colin Linden, creates something akin to an electric jug band version of "Big River". It's big fun, every cut. GRADE: A"

-Roberta Penn
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
October 5, 2003 


"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."

-Jason Wesley
Summer, 2003 


"Johnny's Blues: A Tribute to Johnny Cash is a very different kind of covers album, and a much more successful one."

The performers of these songs written or made famous by Johnny Cash do not make the mistake of trying to imitate the Man in Black's vocal style. Instead, as the title implies, they approach these arguably country songs by way of the blues. In fact, guitarist Kevin Breit doesn't sing at all, presenting '
Send A Picture of Mother' as a beautiful, laid-back instrumental.

On '
Folsom Prison Blues', one of Cash's most famous hits, Blackie & The Rodeo Kings change the tempo and style to make it sound like a whole new song, as does Harry Manx on a mournful, gospel-influenced 'Long Black Veil'. O Brother Where Art Thou's Chris Thomas King takes 'Rock Island Line' back to the earlier Leadbelly version, Kris Kristofferson's immortal 'Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down' is given a bare-bones treatment by Alvin Youngblood Hart, and Sleepy LaBeef chugs his way through 'Frankie's Man Johnny'. And last but not least, Mavis Staples performs a stripped-down bluesy version of 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken'.

Produced by Colin Linden,
Johnny's Blues is a thoughtful, fitting tribute that does more than simply hitchhike on its subject's brilliance. 4 stars."

- Mary Dickie
Toronto Sun
July 20, 2003 


"Johnny's Blues is a collection of the best blues artists around, put together by Canada's Northern Blues Music label, who are releasing some of the most vital new blues music available today."

- David Kidney
Green Man Review
Summer, 2003 


Editor's CD Pick
"From Rockabilly, to old-timey, to lounge, to regge tinged blues this CD manages to show the scope and flexibility of Cash's music more than either of the recent Cash tributes ... The thing that separate this recording from the others is that even though it's based in the blues, all the artists pepper the songs with their own style so each song cleans your musical palate for the next one and you're never bored."

- Carlye Archibeque
Independent Reviews Site
July, 2003 


"As tribute albums go, this is among the best you'll find. And the fact that it pays respects to Johnny Cash simply makes it all the better. While Cash isn't primarily recognized as a bluesman, he certainly sang the blues, and he did so, of course, with an unmistakable voice, but also with a true feeling for the music. Highlights here include an acoustic version of "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," courtesy of Alvin Youngblood Hart, Sleep LaBeef's "Frankie's Man Johnny" and, perhaps the album's most moving track, "Redemption," delivered in a full-on haunt by Corey Harris. Well worth your pennies."

- Michael Henningsen
Alibi, Albuquerque
July 10 - 16, 2003  


"Now THIS is what a 'tribute' album should be all about."

- Bill Mitchell
Blues Bytes
June, 2003 


"Most tributes focus on Johnny Cash's enormous impact on country and rock. However, this brilliantly conceived 13-song compilation emphasizes the Man in Black's very real link to the Delta blues.

Cash's most apparent blues connections were made during his mid-50s tenure at Sun Records, a fact not lost on several contributors. Paul Reddick's blues harp laden version of "
Train of Love" and Garland Jeffries' zydeco-tinged remake of "I Walk The Line," nicks a bit of the old Memphis label's seductive appeal. By creative contrast, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown w/Benjy Davis transform "Get Rhythm" into understated jump jazz while Colin Linden, and Blackie & The Rodeo Kings juice up "Big River" and "Folsom Prison Blues" respectively with electric juke-joint boogie.

The Columbia era is smartly represented by Maria Muldaur's achingly jivey jugband rendition of "
Walking The Blues," and Alvin Youngblood Hart's plaintive American Records-styled take on "Sunday Morning Coming Down." Conceptual risks are taken with Kevin Breit's retooling of "Send a Picture of Mother" into a dreamy mariachi/exotica instrumental, and Harry Manx's Far East flavored remake of "Long Black Veil." Along with Mavis Staples' riveting sanctified performance on "Will The Circle Be Unbroken," these are less masterpieces of re-invention than the joyous discovery of creative common ground. The resultant mix comprises by far the most satisfying Cash tribute of recent vintage."

- Ken Burke
Country Standard Time
June, 2003 


"The appearance of gospel legend, Mavis Staples, is noteworthy and fascinating. Staples appeared on TV with Johnny Cash and June Carter way back in the early sixties. There isn't a better version of Will The Circle Be Unbroken anywhere."

- Richard Bourcier
June, 2003 


"... contributions come from Clarence Gatemouth Brown (a juke joint jumping Get Rhythm), Paul Reddick (a mouth harp chugging Train Of Love), and Mavis Staples (a strangely understated Will The Circle Be Unbroken) but for my money, the cash on the barrelhead has to be Oh Brother star Chris Thomas King's talking blues Rock Island Line, Maria Muldaur with a version of Walking The Blues that sounds like it was lifted from the Smithsonian archives and had its scratches removes, and, the simplest but best, Harry Manx strumming National Steel with a dusty, achingly mournful stripped down Long Black Veil that, when the back up choir come in, is a working definition of sublime."

- Mike Davies
June, 2003 


"It's a fitting tribute that brings out a bit of blue from behind the Man in Black."

- Devin Grant
Charleston Post & Courier
June 26, 2003