Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Stack O' Cash

After being deep into the Johnny Cash section of my CD albums, its perhaps became apparent that I hold the man in rather high esteem. I would say that I had never heard a Johnny Cash song that I didn’t love completely, but also with the wealth of material that he produced when I do hear something new for the first time, it reminds me why I love his work so much.
If you had to pin me down though, across a career that spans 50 years, what is the best? What releases surpass all of the other wonderful and great songs.
Now the thing with me is that I love it all, I love the hymns, the songs about native Americans, the songs about soldiers, murder, everything. That in mind of everything here is what I consider to be the very best.

Far Side Banks of Jordan

Ah this gorgeous cut from a June Carter Cash album, 1999’s Press On. She was 70 when she recorded that. Resurfacing on Johnny’s Duets album. This, most days, is my absolute favourite. More poignant when you listen to it and know that Johnny died 5 months after June in 2003. A similar tone explored on his cover of Hank Williams’ On The Evening Train. That a journey is coming to an end, but the belief that when it does end, one or the other will be waiting.

If It Proves To Be His Will That I Am First To Cross
And Somehow I've A Feeling It Will Be
When It Comes Your Turn To Travel Likewise Don't Feel Lost
For I Will Be The First One That You'll See

And I'll Be Waiting On The Far Side Banks Of Jordan
I'll Be Sitting Drawing Pictures In The Sand
And When I See You Coming I Will Rise Up With A Shout
And Come Running Through The Shallow Water Reaching For Your Hand

As I said all the more poignant that John would follow June so swiftly.

Delia’s Gone

Delias Gone was from Johnny’s American period, when his career it seemed was in a bit of a lull, American signed him and opened up a new creative period and indeed gave him to a whole new fanbase. This was a period that spawned his take on Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt, his cover of Soundgardens Rusty Cage and amongst a rich vein of covers and originals was this track, Delia’s Gone. Delia’s Gone was the track that made me think that this period Cash wasn’t so bad after all, it was not until this track that I fell for this period Johnny. I was suspicious of Rick Rubin and his motives, I still am to a degree, more so with Neil Diamond, is he really a fan? I don’t know. But Delia’s Gone, it’s a simple acoustic number originally released on 1962’s The Sound Of Johnny Cash but the version I love is the version that appeared on 1994 American Recordings. Its just a stunning and simple song, beautiful.

The Beast In Me

The Beast In Me also appeared on the American Recordings album, this is a song written by Johnny Cash’s son in law Nick Lowe. Lowe released it on his Impossible Bird album and I can’t comment on the original yet, as of today I haven’t heard it. I suspect that will change pretty soon. Johnny’s version is a menacing song though, one that doesn’t threaten with words, but with a glance or peering over glasses. It’s a song that sends shivers up your spine truly, and a million miles from A Boy Named Sue, but a bedfellow for the other tracks on the American Recordings album written by people such as Glenn Danzig and Tom Waits. This is as light as it will get. The Beast In Me is perfection though, its amongst his very best, easily.

Peace In The Valley

I have this thing for June Carter Cash’s voice, she really has the most beautiful angelic voice you will ever hear, from her time as a youngster right up until her later years prior to her death, no ones voice is like June Carter’s and no voice betters it. On Peace In The Valley, like all of the spiritual songs June contributed to her voice on is just so important to the whole feel and sound of the song. She transcends backing vocalist and makes herself integral to the whole piece. Peace In the Valley as a song by itself is amazing, add June Carters vocals to that mix and its difficult to beat.


Which brings us neatly to Jackson. If ever there was a song that associated June and Johnny as a couple then it has to be Jackson. To my mind their most famous song, barring Ring Of Fire. Opening a song with the line, “We got married in a fever”, it just paints the urgency of the start of the relationship so well, and to enforce that “hotter than a peppered sprout”, but then it tells of the fire in the relationship going out. Jackson will show them delights, but sadly not with each other.
This isn’t a Johnny Cash song, Jerry Lieber wrote it, but Cash truly made it is own, the plethora, the many many covers that have been made of it, really are a cover of Cash and not I suspect of the version that appeared on co-writer, Billy Edd Wheeler’s album.
Jackson delights me everytime I hear it, be it by Johnny Cash, be it by Brakes, be it The Pleasure Barons, all versions are fantastic, but it is Johnny and June singing this song together which is by far the best.

I Still Miss Someone

Ah I Still Miss Someone, a Cash penned song composed in collaboration with Roy Cash, Johnny Cash’s nephew. Roy Cash is also the father of Carey Cash, President Obama’s pastor. As for his contribution to this song, Roy Cash that is, I don’t know, he gets a writing credit so I assume he had some input and not hopefully, change a word, claim a third.
I Still Miss Someone is up there as my favourite of Johnny’s romantic songs and it’s a beauty I return to a lot, foisting it on my uninterested wife whenever possible, I suspect I could play it to her today and she would claim that she has never heard it. I Still Miss Someone should be a bona fide classic but I think its not particularly well known. It is beautiful though, a gorgeous song that has been covered numerous times, as is the case again with this, it is the Cash version that surpasses all others.

Girl From The North Country

Ah Girl From The North Country. This is a song that appeared on the Dylan album, Nashville Skyline, the best Dylan album by a considerable chalk and the version that appeared on that album sees Dylan and Cash duet on this song. They also duetted on I Still Miss Someone during those sessions, whereas this track benefits from Cash’s gravelly vocals, I Still Miss Someone loses something with the addition of Dylan. That all said this is a fine Dylan track that gives and gives, it oddly reminds me, for reasons I cannot fathom, of Lambchops, The Man Who Loved Beer. I have no clue why. This song though is beautiful in every aspect, Dylan lets us in and lets us know about this girl, confides in us. Dylan is astonishingly honest in this song and I don’t think he betters it.
It has been covered many many times but the version for me is the one that he performed with Cash. Stunning.

(I'm Proud) The Baby is Mine

When my good lady has had a little too much wine, this song always springs to mind, (I'm Proud) The Baby is Mine tell us listeners of a lady, who perhaps may not be quite as classy as other women, but heck JR is proud she is his. I adore this song, I love everything about it, it tells you something about love, about how its easy to love someone demure and dignified, but when that gal is flat on her ass, that’s real love. Maybe not but for some reason I hold this song in extremely high regard. I have it as a bonus track on the incredible Orange Blossom Special, another reason why that album is so great.

When It’s Springtime In Alaska

This is a song that not only popped up a considerable amount when I was listening to Johnny Cash as part of my commute CD journey, but it’s a song that my iPod and its randomness seems to settle on at least once in fifty times. I don’t mind this as I consider this to be one of the most special Cash songs he ever committed to tape. The bonus is that it features the perfect vocals of June Carter Cash. Again this is another track from Orange Blossom special.
The tale, as is often the case of someone wronging Big Ed and suffering the consequences.

I was as innocent as I could be
I didn't know Lil was big Ed's wife to be
He took out his knife and he gave it a throw
When it's springtime in Alaska I'll be six feet below

Folsom Prison Blues

Folsom Prison Blues, from Cash’s Sun Records period and as spitting and as angry as you will get, bitterness, jealousy and very nearly hate. That’s what prison will do to a man. Cash said of the line, “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die”, "I sat with my pen in my hand, trying to think up the worst reason a person could have for killing another person, and that's what came to mind." That sums up the whole tone of the song, but that line, perhaps is Johnny Cash defining line. Amazing. An amazing song.

Were You There When They Crucified My Lord

Finally to this, today, its his best work, today. It’s a traditional song, a hymn that owes a debt to June Carter, her vocals on this surpass anything at all I have heard and this song just keeps on improving, it is a career highlight for them both and the point where June's vocals come in makes you think, music really doesn’t get any better than that.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic post Peter. Good reading, good music, good everything.