Johnny's Blues: A Tribute to Johnny Cash
First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2003, Volume 10, #10
Written by Michael Cooney
Tribute albums can be inherently difficult. Most of them consist of lesser-known artists covering the work of often legendary ones, and the songs are almost never as good as the originals. It should have been easy, however, to create a powerful tribute to Johnny Cash. He isn’t a particularly good vocalist nor is he a flashy showman. Instead, his greatness comes from being a honest, pure songwriter, and a simply powerful lyricist. In essence, Cash is an American storyteller, and any musician wishing to pay tribute to him by covering his work has some of the most moving musical stories ever told with which to work. Johnny’s Blues: A Tribute to Johnny Cash is a collection of blues artists interpreting Cash’s songs, which should be a natural fit. Unfortunately, the true beauty and inspiration of Cash’s music is almost nowhere to be found, and the resulting album is one of the most bland, unemotional tributes in recent memory.
Johnny’s Blues begins with a promising rendition of Train of Love performed by Paul Reddick. The track’s snappy slide guitar and wailing harmonica kick things off with a bang, but from there the collection heads downhill at a rapid pace. There are some inspired moments — Harry Manx offers a hauntingly beautiful interpretation of Long Black Vail, and Mavis Staples brings a new spiritual power to Will the Circle Be Unbroken — but the album’s best moments are far too few. Frequently, the artists deliver less than inspired, second-rate performances while attempting to bring a new flavor to the music. As a result, songs — such as Corey Harris’ rendition of Redemption and Garland Jeffreys’ cover of I Walk the Line — simply fall flat. Anyone who is a true Johnny Cash fan should stick to buying music from the man himself, and leave this tribute album on the shelf.
Johnny's Blues is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box