Sunday, May 01, 2005
I grew up with my parents playing Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra. The music of my youth was Cat Stevens and Neil Young. Even when I knew everything and my parents didn't, I still listened to Johnny Cash. There was an honesty and depth to his singing that couldn't be ignored, even if country wasn't my taste.
Since my daughter left home I've enjoyed the opportunity to start listening to music again. I picked up Cash's last album, Cash American IV: The Man Comes Around. It comes with something everyone will dislike until they listen to it.
The title track is a gospel song that Cash wrote. The second track, Hurt, written by Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails begins to show the depth of this work. The original was raw and rough and noisy. Cash is if possible more raw while being quieter. The feelings and hurt from drug addiction portrayed in this song is quietly and powerfully rendered. Cash covers some other very familiar tunes; Bridge Over Troubled Water by Paul Simon, Personal Jesus from Depeche Mode, In My Life, a Beatles tune that Cash redefines. First Time I Ever Saw Your Face was sung by Roberta Flack. Nancie who has perfect pitch commented that his voice seems to go off somewhere from time to time, but you can't stop listening. In Desperado, an Eagles tune, Cash seems to be beseeching a close friend, with Don Hanley doing backup vocals. All these tunes start playing in my mind when I hear the title, but Cash makes them fresh and alive.
The other songs are older, some written by Cash himself, such as Give My Love to Rose, and Tear Stained Letter, Streets of Laredo which are old tear jerkers. He does a beautiful rendition of the Hank Williams classic I'm So Lonesome I Could Die with Nick Cave. Sam Hall is another old Cash tune makes me think that my attitude isn't so bad after all. Quite fun. And one of the most surprising is We'll Meet Again, sung originally by Vera Lynn during WWII, again redefined by Cash.
There is a raw feel to this album. Cash's voice has always been special, never technically perfect but full of feeling. This comes across in the sparse arrangements. Yea yea, I hate that stuff, it's so old, blech. As I said, there is something to hate for everyone on this album, until you listen. Corny tearjerkers that, oops, start you crying. Out of tune harmonies that demand another listen. How could you describe a song where fiddle, dubro and clarinet play incongruously in the background. Huh? I've got to listen to that one again.
Someone had some good sense to just let the man sing. He does.
but through every musical phase of my life, were it classical or grunge or blues or..., Cash's voice always did it for me.
i think, because he was honest. honestly hurt or honestly hopefully, honestly acknowledging himself or the world honestly just ... singing. he didn't just make performances, because he didn't really seem to perform as much as simply exist.
the day he died i took the day off work and sat there listening to his music, including the album you described so well in your entry.
i'm not a big country fan, but Cash was more than that... did you know that he actually phoned up the people whose songs he was covering on his later albums to discuss with them what those songs meant to them? and then, as you note, made them his own... wow.
"Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black"
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