26 February 2010

Five for Friday (Happy Birthday, Mr. Cash)

In honor of what wuld've been Johnny Cash's 78th birthday today, today's Five for Friday will be all Johnny Cash.

1.) "You Are My Sunshine" from the album "American: Unearthed Volume III (Redemption Songs)." This song is on the box set of out-takes from the American Recordings sessions. The song is just above two minutes long and, since it's on an album of out-takes, you get some banter left in between Cash and the others in the room (I hear Marty Stuart's voice in there). They ask him if he wants to add the other verse and Cash replies, "if I feel like my song is sung, I don't care if it's short." This song is often sung as a happy kind of tune but it's really pretty sad — perfect for Cash, in other words.

2.) "Tiger Whitehead" from the album "Personal File (Disc 1)." This is an album of Cash with just an acoustic guitar from the '70s (from what I remember hearing about this album). He apparently recorded these songs in his personal studio. This is a story song, the kind Cash was so good at singing. I think, in his heart, Cash was a storyteller wrapped up in a music man. This album is kinda the American Recordings series before Rick Rubin even thought of recording Cash.

3.) "The Streets Of Laredo" from the album "Johnny Cash Sings The Ballads Of The True West." I was first introduced to this song when he rerecorded it for his "American IV: The Man Comes Around" album. This version has Cash in a more full voice. "Booming" would be the right word. The American version is much more stark, of course, and this version has some of the trappings of most '60s and '70s country music with the background singers and whatnot. It's still awesome though.

4.) "Tennessee Flat-Top Box" from the album "The Essential Johnny Cash 1955-1983." The sound of early Cash recordings is unmistakable. There's the echo on his voice and the slap-back of Luther Perkins's electric guitar that was so popular. Again, another story song. Back then, they would pan one rhythm guitar left and one lead guitar right. It's a pretty cool effect that I wish people would still do every now and then.

5.) "Field Of Diamonds" from the album "American III: Solitary Man." This one features Sheryl Crow and (I think) June Carter Cash as background vocalists. Not the best track from this series but still very listen-able.

Oh heck, I'll go on ...

6.) "Belshazah" from the album "God." This is from the box set "Love, God, Murder." There are three discs, one devoted to songs about love, one to songs about God and one with murder songs. "You're weighed in the balance and found wanting." If there was ever a man to sing Old Testament songs, Cash is it.

7.) "Wayfaring Stranger" from the album "American III: Solitary Man." I've heard this one done a lot of different ways and nearly all of them are good. Rick Rubin has been derided by some (not many though) for his work with Cash but I think he found a way to let Cash sing some great songs and showcase his unique ability to tell a story through a song — rugged edges and all.

8.) "I'll Fly Away" from the album "American: Unearthed Volume IV (My Mother's Hymn Book)." Cash always said he wanted to do an album of gospel songs he learned from his mother, just him and his guitar. I'm so glad he finally got the chance and that short-sighted record executives didn't win out in the end.

9.) "Meet Me In Heaven" from the album "American II: Unchained." I love the 12-string guitar on this. I bought Cash's original American Recordings album as a 16- or 17-year-old in high school and was hooked. I didn't get this album until years later but it's now one of my favorites. Say what you want about Rick Rubin, but I think he's a genius what he did with Cash in his final decade. He's still full-voiced on this album. By the way, I love the lyrics to this: "Can't be sure of how's it's going to be/When we walk into the light across the bar/But I'll know you and you'll know me/Out there beyond the stars."

Ok, that's it. I'll quit now. I'll admit that I have quite the Johnny Cash obsession so I'll try to reign it in today. :-) By the way, you should go pick up his last "American" album "American VI: Ain't No Grave." It's not Cash in his best form (he was dying for crying out loud) but it is a great piece of work that will make you think about your own mortality (and, yes, you and me are both mortal so it's OK to think about it every now and then).

Happy birthday (in heaven), Mr. Cash.

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