Kindred Spirits

I love free stuff.

As you know, most of my record reviewing comes from forays to the local Borders, where I sip on a vanilla latte and sample the albums. It sounds sad at first, but I’d rather spend my money on computer toys.

Oh, ok, it is sad. I’m cheap. But who could find anything wrong with listening to free samples of music before you decide to spend your hard-earned cash on the CD? I should propose this to the RIAA as a great way to improve CD sales! They could let you download songs for free and then…um….never mind.

Anyway, back to the free stuff.

This week my well-connected and generous wife got me a promo copy of one of the Johnny Cash tribute albums that’s floating around–Kindred Spirits / A Tribute to the Songs of Johnny Cash.

The album starts off o.k. with Dwight Yoakam playing it cool on Understand Your Main (a pretty blatant rip-off off Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, but apparently Bobby never cared about that). There are some neat horns that also bring in the spirit of another Cash hit, Ring of Fire.

That’s followed by Roseanne Cash doing a sweet, but none-too-thrilling version of I Still Miss Someone. It’s missing the mournful wail of the original, but here is the first taste of Cash poetry.

At my door, the leaves are falling. A cold, wild wind has come.
Sweethearts walk by together. And I still miss someone.

Next up, Bob Dylan does Train of Love in classic Dylan style. Very cool, with a nice spoken hello and thanks to Johnny.

From there, the album starts to slide south…

Get Rhythm by Little Richard is hoppin’, but Richard’s voice is so strained it’s painful to hear. I can picture this being a great version of the song…if he had done it 40 years ago!

Keb’ Mo’ does Folsom Prison Blues and completely screws it up. Unfortunately, he sees ‘blues’ in the title and assumes he has to change the lyrics around so you’ll pity him. Where’s the snarling defiant admission of guilt in “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die”? It’s replaced by “They say I shot a man in Reno, but that was just a lie.” And the same attitude that is the point of the whole frickin’ song in “I know I had it comin’, I know I can’t be free,” gets turned into the whining: “I didn’t hurt nobody, I know I should be free.” Yuck.

Travis Tritt does a perfectly boring version of I Walk the Line–a song that lives and breathes from its taut, key-changing performance more than anything else. Hank Williams, Jr., wades in with his worst Johnny Cash imitation on the song, Big River. *gack*

And then the carnage is over, thank God.

Bruce Springsteen knows exactly what Give My Love to Rose is about. He does an awesome job. As does Charlie Robison on Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.

Mary Chapin Carpenter, Sheryl Crow and Emmylou Harris team up on one of Cash’s most poetic ballads, Flesh and Blood (with Crow on accordion). This song highlights the odd and real contradictions Cash presented in his music. On the one hand, he could write a devastatingly cruel line, like “I shot a man in Reno…” or a whole hateful song (Delia’s Gone). Yet, on the other, he gave us flowing poetry under his low, growling voice:

A cardinal sang just for me
And I thanked him for the song.
Then the sun when slowly down the west
And we had to move along.
These are some of the things
On which my mind and spirit feed.
But flesh and blood needs flesh and blood
And you’re the one I need.

Throw in his gospel songs, and the contrast is so stark that his record company made a three-album, greatest hits series out of it: God, Love, and Murder.

I’ll stay out of the “Steve Earle is an unpatriotic idiot” debate and just say that his version of Hardin Wouldn’t Run is great.

Marty Stuart is the self-appointed country music historian. It seems like I’ve seen him on every tribute show and record for the last five years (or more). He’s one of the forces behind this record, playing lead guitar on a lot of tracks. His version of Hey Porter is very good. He’s not Cash, but hell who is? Great guitar solo…not Luther Perkins, but that was for another era.

If the record ended there, I’d be pretty happy. Unfortunately, Stuart gathers up Janette Carter and a bunch of other old people (including the sickly Cash) to do a scary version of Meet Me in Heaven. I realize it is not the intent of the producer to get us in the mood for Johnny’s eventual passing, but good grief that was depressing. I’d prefer to think happy thoughts about Mr. Cash right now. And I don’t want to be mean to old ladies, but….*shudder* this was very bad.

Actually, the whole album just made me want to hear Johnny’s versions. If you have wads o’ cash, go out and buy the box set, Essential Johnny Cash 1955-83. Otherwise, you’d do worse than to buy the live album, At Folsom Prison (for the liner notes alone).

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