Johnny Cash Remixed

Johnny Cash Remixed


First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2009, Volume 16, #2

Written by Douglas Heselgrave

Wed February 4, 2009, 06:30 AM CST


Whoever coined the phrase "nothing is sacred" must have been thinking of records like Johnny Cash Remixed. After listening to this disc, even the most open-minded souls will have to admit that some things are better left alone. Perhaps in the hands of people who better understood Johnny Cash’s rebel spirit and the innate rhythms embedded in his music, Johnny Cash Remixed could have been transformed into a credible, even enthralling collection of reworked classics. The butchers responsible for this album, however, never take any liberties with the songs beyond turning up the bass, adding weird sounds, and revving up the number of beats per second.

If there is a Heaven, somewhere in that promised land Cash must be crying on Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s shoulder and asking, "Why me, Lord?" The Sufi singer is among those performers whose music has been thrown into the musical blender by remix artists over the last few years. Under the guidance of a sensitive talent like Gaudi, Khan’s music was re-imagined in a dub reggae format on Dub Qawwali, and in the process, it was given an unlikely, but exhilarating new life. Similarly, Bob Marley’s music has been remixed as hip-hop, and soul artists like Nina Simone have had their music tweaked for the dance floor. Of course, the results have been of varying degrees of quality, but listening to efforts like Alan Lomax’s Southern Journey Remixed by Tangle Eye, one is forced to admit that a good DJ can allow the listener to experience previously hidden undercurrents in classic songs. Remixes aren’t intended to replace the originals, but rather they are designed to comment on them in much the same way that English romantic poets like Byron and Shelley reinvigorated classical themes by alluding to them in novel ways to suit a society undergoing an industrial revolution.

If one concedes that, with a certain deftness and sensitivity, anything can be remixed, there is nothing innately wrong with approaching Cash’s work by looking for hooks to exploit as well as rhythms to enlarge. His chugging locomotive guitar style suggests so many potential dance beats that the most infuriating aspect of listening to this record is not what the DJs have done, but rather what they didn’t do. They almost invariably pick the weakest and most obvious rhythms to exploit. Going back to Gaudi’s remixes of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s work on Dub Qawwali, it becomes obvious that sometimes the most daring and audacious concepts have the greatest chances of success. Accepting this, it’s impossible to blame Cash’s originals for the mess that is made on Johnny Cash Remixed.

So, whose fault is it? In one of the most unlikely pairings in modern music, hip-hop mogul Snoop Dogg and Cash’s son John Carter are listed as executive producers, but other than the presence of the former artist’s uninspired commentary on I Walk the Line, it’s hard to tell what role they played in the creation of Johnny Cash Remixed. The best albums of this kind contain a narrative musical thread that runs through them, allowing the cuts to flow from one into the next. Johnny Cash Remixed is very clunky, and it contains no cohesion whatsoever. Each track fails to build on its predecessor, and the listener is left feeling jarred and unsatisfied. Of all the tunes represented here, only Get Rhythm and Cash’s cover of Hank Williams’ I Heard that Lonesome Whistle Blow — which were reworked by Philip Steir and Apparat, respectively — have any potential.

Johnny Cash was undeniably one of the great artists of the last century, and his work merits a second look by a more intuitive cast of remix artists. If the managers of his estate want to try again, they’d do well to contact Tangle Eye, Gaudi — or even the wan and fey Moby — in order to get the job done right. As it currently stands, though, the man that Cash shot in Reno couldn’t have been guilty of anything half as bad as the people responsible for Johnny Cash Remixed. star ½


Of Further Interest...

Burning Spear - Living Dub, Vol. 5

Remixing Adrian Sherwood: Breaking It Down and Going Solo (Interview)

Tony Joe White - Deep Cuts


Johnny Cash Remixed is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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