VARIOUS ARTISTS – Johnny Cash Forever Words (Legacy Recordings)

Forever WordsJohnny Cash: Forever Words (or, according to the physical CD, Johnny Cash The Music Forever Words) is a collaborative album consisting of 16 songs based on Johnny Cash’s unpublished poetry, lyrics, and letters.

Some of them are drawn directly from Forever Words: The Unknown Poems, described as “a volume of Cash’s unpublished writing edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon“. Indeed, it has been described as a “musical companion” to the book. The promo copy I received didn’t come with a lyric sheet or information apart from a track listing naming the artist(s) for each song. And a spectacular array of artists it is, too. But it would have been nice to have known more about the supporting personnel, for example.

Here are the tracks and artists.

1          ‘Forever / I Still Miss Someone’ is a poem read by Kris Kristofferson over Willie Nelson’s guitar, where Nelson picks out the tune to the classic ‘I Still Miss Someone’, a song written by Johnny Cash and Roy Cash Jr and recorded way back in 1958. Despite Cash’s awareness here of his own mortality, there’s no doubt that his songs will indeed “still be sung“.

2          ‘To June This Morning’, by Ruston Kelly and Kacey Musgraves features Everly-ish harmonies over restrained banjo and guitar. Simple, short, effective.

3          ‘Gold All Over the Ground’ by Brad Paisley is a more mainstream country song/performance, but an excellent example of the genre.

4          ‘You Never Knew My Mind’ is sung by Chris Cornell, once described by Alice Cooper as “the best voice in rock and roll“, who died in May 2017. It has some of the feel of Cash’s last recordings.

5          ‘The Captain’s Daughter’ is performed by the Alison Krauss and Union Station. I’d crawl over glass to hear Krauss in any context, but, typically of her work with Union Station, there’s also some very nice instrumental work that doesn’t hurt my ears either. And it’s a fascinating story/song.

6          ‘Jellico Coal Man’, as performed by T Bone Burnett, captures nicely the feel of a typical Cash song (if there is such a thing) though the vocals are much lighter.

7          Rosanne Cash’s ‘The Walking Wounded’ is a slow ballad that reminded me a little of Mary Chapin Carpenter. Lovely.

8          While John Mellencamp has a voice all his own, I can certainly imagine ‘Them Double Blues’ in a Johnny-and-June concert performance, perhaps with a little more Luther Perkins “boom-chicka-boom” on the guitar. Sadly, that will have to remain a fantasy, unless some tribute act takes the hint.

9          Jewel’s ‘Body On Body’ starts off with folky acoustic guitar and builds into a ballad that shows off her vocal range to good effect.

10        On the whole, I like Elvis Costello’s songs more than his voice, but ‘I’ll Still Love You’ works well. If the lyric is less complex than you might expect, it melds very nicely with a typical Costello melody and layered orchestration.

11        Carlene Carter’s ‘June’s Sundown’ has a minor melody and instrumentation that recalls Eastern Europe rather than Memphis, but it’s perfect for the lyric.

12        ‘He Bore It All’ by Dailey & Vincent comes over as very mainstream bluegrass with a gospel theme and classy harmonies, banjo, mandolin and fiddle. As you’d expect.

13        ‘Chinky Pin Hill’ by I’m With Her, combines what sounds like a fretless banjo with cool twists of harmony and country fiddle. Fascinating: a trio I’d rather like to hear more of.

14        ‘Goin’, Goin’, Gone’ by Robert Glasper and featuring Ro James and Anu Sun, is in complete contrast, with more than a hint of Stevie Wonder in the arrangement and vocal delivery, but morphing into a spoken description of amphetamine addiction.

15        ‘What Would I Dreamer Do?’ is a nice country-rock performance by The Jayhawks.

16        Jamey Johnson is a new name to me, but ‘Spirit Rider’ is a fitting end to the album, though the tune is rather close to ‘Fields Of Gold’ at times.

This is a recording many people will want: fans of Johnny Cash, fans of one or more of the artists who participated, and anyone open to a rather different take on country music. Me, I’m off to find out more about some of the names here that are less familiar to me. And perhaps order the book…

David Harley

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Artist’s website: www.JohnnyCashForeverWords.com

‘The Walking Wounded’ – Rosanne Cash:

JOHNNY CASH: FOREVER WORDS

Legacy Recordings to Release Johnny Cash: Forever Words, an Album of Cash’s Unknown Poems & Other Writings Transformed into New Songs by Contemporary Artists

Album Features New Performances by Chris Cornell, Ruston Kelly & Kacey Musgraves, Rosanne Cash, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Kris Kristofferson & Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, John Mellencamp, Carlene Carter, Elvis Costello, The Jayhawks, and More

When Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash passed, they left behind what John Carter Cash, their son and Johnny Cash: Forever Words co-producer, describes as a “monstrous amassment” of things, including a treasure trove of undiscovered material that includes Johnny Cash’s handwritten letters, poems and documents, penned across the entirety of his life.

Over the past two years, album producers John Carter Cash and Steve Berkowitz invited a stellar cast of musicians to create new music to accompany these newly discovered Cash writings.

Recorded primarily at The Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee, Johnny Cash: Forever Words is also the musical companion to the best-selling “Forever Words: The Unknown Poems,” a volume of Cash’s unpublished writing edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon and curated by John Carter Cash and Steve Berkowitz.

Many of the songs on Johnny Cash: Forever Words were directly inspired by material in the book while others are drawn from different sources of Cash’s unpublished writings. The tone of the album is established with the opening track “Forever/I Still Miss Someone” featuring Kris Kristofferson reciting the last poem Cash ever wrote alongside guitar accompaniment from Willie Nelson, both lifelong friends of Johnny. Continuing the close-to-home theme, the music then transitions to the deeply personal “To June This Morning,” a letter Johnny wrote to his wife, June Carter Cash, now interpreted by real-life couple Ruston Kelly and Kacey Musgraves.

Twenty-one years after Johnny Cash recorded his cover of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” for his Grammy Award winning album, Unchained, Chris Cornell continues this special relationship with “You Never Knew My Mind,” setting some of Cash’s own poignant and introspective words to original music on one of Cornell’s last solo recordings.

The album also showcases Rosanne Cash, Johnny Cash’s eldest daughter, who interpreted her father’s “The Walking Wounded,” marking just the second time that she has collaborated on a record with her half-brother John Carter Cash.

John Carter Cash also collaborated here with his half-sister Carlene, his mother June’s first daughter, on “June’s Sundown.” Carlene Carter was just twelve years old when her mother June Carter married Johnny Cash, but bonded immediately with her stepfather who she referred to as “Big John.”

The Grammy Award winning bluegrass super-group Alison Krauss & Union Station made a rare recording together on “The Captain’s Daughter,” the group’s first new studio recording in six years.

“Determining the artist for each song was truly a matter of the heart,” said John Carter Cash. “I picked the artists who are most connected with my father, who had a personal story that was connected with Dad. It became an exciting endeavor to go through these works, to put them together and present them to different people who could finish them in a way that I believed that Dad would have wanted.”

When making the Johnny Cash: Forever Words album, producers John Carter Cash and Steve Berkowitz tapped into a spirit of musical collaboration between the musicians and the words of Johnny Cash. The goal of Johnny Cash: Forever Words was not to create a “lost” Johnny Cash album, but rather for musicians to connect with these poems and allow them to flourish in a new musical world.

Johnny Cash: Forever Words
1. Forever/I Still Miss Someone – Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson
2. To June This Morning – Ruston Kelly and Kacey Musgraves
3. Gold All Over the Ground – Brad Paisley
4. You Never Knew My Mind – Chris Cornell
5. The Captain’s Daughter – Alison Krauss and Union Station
6. Jellico Coal Man – T. Bone Burnett
7. The Walking Wounded – Rosanne Cash
8. Them Double Blues – John Mellencamp
9. Body on Body – Jewel
10. I’ll Still Love You – Elvis Costello
11. June’s Sundown – Carlene Carter
12. He Bore It All – Daily and Vincent
13. Chinky Pin Hill – I’m With Her
14. Goin’, Goin’, Gone – Robert Glasper featuring Ro James, and Anu Sun
15. What Would I Dreamer Do? – The Jayhawks
16. Spirit Rider – Jamey Johnson

Legacy Recordings, a division of Sony Music Entertainment, will release Johnny Cash: Forever Words – a collaborative album consisting of songs created from Johnny Cash’s unknown poetry, lyrics, and letters set to music by an astounding array of contemporary artists on Friday 6th April.

Johnny Cash: Forever Words will be available on CD, 2LP Vinyl and Digital formats.

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Web links:
WEBSITE: http://johnnycashonline.com/
FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/johnnycash/
JohnnyCashForeverWords.com
LegacyRecordings.com

TOM RUSSELL – The Rose Of Roscrae (Proper Records PRPCD130)

RofRThe term “ballad opera” isn’t heard much these days but that is exactly what we have here. There are fifty-two tracks divided into two acts on two discs; some are song length, others are mere vignettes linking them. There are guest appearances from Johnny Cash, Joe Ely, Eliza Gilkyson, Getchen Peters, Ian Tyson. Jimmy LaFave, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and even Bert Lloyd among many others. Some are playing roles, others providing background colour and some are old recordings co-opted for the show.

The basic package doesn’t offer much in the way of clues except for a quote taken from the narration which is spoken over the overture in which Russell explains that it begins with a hanging – which actually occurs in the middle of the story. Actually, there is a sixty page booklet with annotated lyrics but that’s not for the likes of humble reviewers. The story elements are not necessarily arranged chronologically so it can be confusing but we can say with some certainty that Russell plays an Irish kid called John Sutton who left Tipperary in the 1880s but he has several aliases and as many adventures.

Russell’s original songs tend towards solid country rock, a solid framework on which to hang the story. Except for the narrative pieces like ‘The Last Running’, of course. Other artists do their own thing, so there’s a gorgeous version of ‘Ain’t No More Cane On The Brazos’ by LaFave and Peters and a rocking take on ‘Jesus Met The Woman At The Well’ with Gilkyson joining Russell. Some songs appear more than once in very different guises. Augie Myers, aka Augie Blood, does strange things to ‘A Closer Walk With Thee’ and ‘He’ll Be Dead Before He Hits The Ground’ and the concept of the last frontier are recurring threads.

The second act finds our hero in the guise of Spanish Johnny somewhere around the Mexican border but it begins briefly in Ireland and frequently takes the point of view of the women in John’s life. Some of this section is rather puzzling. ‘Damien’ mentions Belgium and Bergen for reasons which aren’t quite clear but ‘Gallo Del Cielo’, the story of a stolen fighting cock, leads neatly on to memories of Pancho Villa before one of our heroes is ‘Doin’ Hard Time In Texas’ – an excuse to include a Lead Belly song.

The Rose Of Roscrae is a wide-ranging, one might almost say sprawling, story – a collage of music and lives. At first sight it looks like a folly but it’s a glorious one.

Dai Jeffries

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Johnny Cash – The Complete American Recordings

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USM present the Johnny Cash
American Recordings LP box set

Contains all studio albums released between 1994 and 2010 on 180gm vinyl.

Considered to be one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Johnny Cash, the multi-platinum-selling country music legend, redefined the genre and earned a long line of awards and accolades throughout his 40-year career, including seventeen GRAMMY® Awards, a GRAMMY® Lifetime Achievement Award, nine Country Music Association awards, Academy of Country Music and MTV Awards, and he was the only artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

In the 1990s, Johnny Cash entered a professional renaissance after signing with Rick Rubin’s American Recordings where his label debut launched a fertile, decade-long creative period that saw him record a variety of songs that crossed different genres and spanned nearly a century. On 11th May 2015 USM will release Johnny Cash’s complete American Recordings Vinyl Box Set featuring all six of that label’s albums: American Recordings, American Recordings II: Unchained, American Recordings III: Solitary Man, American Recordings IV: The Man Comes Around, American Recordings V: A Hundred Highways and American Recordings VI: Ain’t No Grave.

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Johnny Cash – ‘Hurt’:

Tom Russell – The Rose Of Roscrae

RofR

Double CD album out 13th April 2015 on Proper Records

Tom Russell’s ambitious new double-album The Rose of Roscrae takes a fascinating look at the history of the American West and traditional cowboy and folk music, through the story of an Irish kid who travels to the United States in the late 1880s to become a cowboy.

Produced by Tom Russell and Barry Walsh, The Rose of Roscrae features a who’s who of legendary Americana icons including: Jimmie Dale Gilmore, David Olney, Johnny Cash, Joe Ely, Augie Meyers, Fats Kaplin, Barry Walsh, Jimmy LaFave, Gretchen Peters, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Walt Whitman, Moses “Clear Rock” Platt, Jack Hardy, David Massengill, A.L. “Bert” Lloyd, Finbar Furey, Sourdough Slim, Blackie Farrell, Tex Ritter, Glen Orhlin, Pat Russell, John Trudell, Henry Real Bird, Thad Beckman, Maura O’Connell, Eliza Gilkyson, The McCrary Sisters, Ian Tyson, Bonnie Dobson, Lead Belly, Guy Clark, Dan Penn, Gurf Morlix, and Pat Manske. The album’s overture is performed by the Norwegian Wind Ensemble, arranged by Mats Hålling, composed by Tom Russell.

For over four decades and 28 album releases Tom Russell has continued to live up to his status as “one of the best singer-songwriters of our time” (Washington Post). His previous two  studio releases, Blood and Candle Smoke (2009) and Mesabi (2011), are considered his strongest composed works yet and were, in part, recorded with the groundbreaking roots band Calexico. In the 1990s, Russell and Dave Alvin were hailed as the architects of what came to be known as “Americana” music after their Merle Haggard tribute, Tulare Dust, initiated the Americana charts in the U.S. and remained number one for a year. Russell’s previous release, Aztec Jazz (2013), moved Americana into a new realm and his acclaimed song catalogue into uncharted territory.

Tom Russell’s songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Doug Sahm, Nanci Griffith, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dave Alvin, Joe Ely, and others. The Rose of Roscrae is his third in a series of acclaimed folk operas, following The Man From God Knows Where (1999) and Hotwalker (2005). Russell has also composed movie scores, including songs for the Monte Hellman movie The Road To Nowhere and published five books, most recently 120 Songs of Tom Russell. An accomplished fine artist, Russell’s paintings are featured in: Blue Horse/Red Desert: The Art of Tom Russell.

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‘The Rose Of Roscrae’ trailer video:

CARLENE CARTER – Carter Girl (Rounder)

CarterGirlAs the daughter of June Carter and 50s country star Carl Smith and the step-daugher of Johnny Cash, even making reference to her musical heritage feels like unnecessarily stating the obvious. However, recorded with a core band of Blake Mills and Greg Leisz  on guitar, Don Was (who also produces) on bass and Jim Keltner behind the kit, this is the first time she’s dug so deep into her mother’s family’s roots with all but one of the twelve tracks being taken from the Carter Family songbook.

While never looking to clone the folk and bluegrass Carter sound, some of these do remain fairly faithful the originals, albeit given a punchier contemporary country feel, most notably the twangy vocal honky-tonk swayer ‘I’ll Be All Smiles’, a jangly ‘Gold Watch And Chain’ and the yee haw bounce of ‘Poor Old Heartsick Me’ (a number from the Carter Sisters repertoire), the latter two both custom-built for line dancing. Teaming with Kris Kristofferson, she also resurrects ‘Black Jack David’, AP Carter’s rework of the traditional folk ballad ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsies’.

Decidedly removed from the Carter version, ‘Little Black Train’ opens the album with a swampy gospel groove driven by Carter’s growly vocals and some molten guitar work from Leisz while she also a  more twang country heft to her mother’s 1999 song ‘Tall Lover Man’, making sure to bring out its sly  musical reference to Cash’s ‘Ring Of Fire’.

Elsewhere, you’ll find a lovely waltzing ‘Give Me The Roses (While I Live)’, a lively duet with Elizabeth Cook on ‘Blackie’s Gunman’ which features Sam Bush on mandolin, and a terrific version of ‘Troublesome Waters’, this time with Willie Nelson doing the duet honours.

Family roots are equally present in Carter’s own contributions, revisiting her 1990 tribute to grandma Maybelle for a rearranged, less Dolly Partonish, version of’ Me And The Wildwood Rose’ with ‘Lonesome Valley 2003’ featuring new words to AP own appropriation of the 19th century spiritual, taking the pace right down to a full blooded piano backed gospel mood with harmonies by Vince Gill.

Given the nature of the album, it’s appropriate that it should close with something of a family reunion as, through modern technology, Carlene’s joined by the voices of Helen Carter, Anita Carter, June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash for a rousing finale of ‘I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow’. Tremendous stuff.

Mike Davies

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