Some incredible Cash covers
In a year that's seen the reissue of so many original Cash LPs, one might wonder what need there is for a tribute album. The answer, as unwound on this album, is obvious: the impact of Cash's music far exceeds his own recordings, having become an essential element of American music. These eighteen covers illuminate both Cash's original legacy -- his songs -- as well as the influence he's had on several generations of musicians. ¶ Like any such various artist compilation, the results are uneven. But unlike many such collections, this one's high-points are exceptionally high, and the remaining cuts are still intriguing. Among the highlights is the opening triple-threat of Hank Williams III, Robbie Fulks, and Rodney Crowell. Others impressive reworkings include those from Rev. Horton Heat, Billy Burnette and Chris Knight. ¶ Hank III's remake of "Wreck of the Old '97" weds the wail of his grand-dad with the locomotive energy of Cash. Williams' and Chuck Mead's guitars push the rhythm that's laid down by bassist Dave Roe and drummer W.S. Holland, and Col. J.D. Wilkes' harmonica screams like a runaway train. ¶ Fulks attacks "Cry, Cry, Cry" with an urgency that even Cash's original (his first single for Sun) didn't register, and Rodney Crowell makes hay from one of the lightest-weight tunes in the Cash catalog, Jack Clement's "Ballad of a Teenage Queen." Though "Ballad" was a #1 country hit for Cash in 1958, Clement's production, especially the chorus and soprano backing vocals, always seemed like mismatch for Cash's presence. Not so with Crowell's take - the cleaner lines of the ringing guitar, the smoothly mixed backing vocals and the narrative lead vocal polishes the song into a true gem. ¶ Rev. Horton Heat infuses his rockabilly mania into "Get Rhythm," while still retaining the essence of Cash's original version. Similarly, Billy Burnette modernizes "Ring of Fire" without losing its soul; the song's loping tempo and iconic guitar hook are lovingly rendered as sacred text. Chris Knight sings Cash's "Flesh and Blood" as his own, rendering it in the spare, acoustic style that's become his trademark. Stripped of the strings and female backing chorus of Cash's 1970 original, the imagery of nature is ever more potent. ¶ A pair of duets recount the combined success of Cash and June Carter. Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis' rendition of "Pack Up Your Sorrows" hints at the Cash/Carter version with it's click-clack train rhythm, but their softer, polished voices more closely follow the song's originators, Richard & Mimi Farina. Mandy Barnett and Chuck Mead's "Jackson" can't possibly match the bristling interpersonal spark of the original, but it fully captures the songs swaggering repartee, and, unlike Nancy Sinatra, Barnett (singing the hell out of the song) gets the lyric "And I'll be waitin' in Jackson, behind my Ja-pan fan" right! ¶ As noted at the top, a world in which Cash's originals are readily available still needs these covers, if only to remind us that Cash's songs -- those he's written, and those he's simply made his own -- are as iconic as his performances.
Was this review helpful to you?YESNO