Christmas: There’ll Be Peace In The Valley By Johnny Cash

March 16, 2017

A new Johnny Cash release is a part of a series of vinyl-only albums issued by the Legacy label in time for the holiday season.

Christmas: There’ll Be Peace In The Valley comes on the heels of a new Elvis Presley Christmas vinyl release and pales in comparison. The sound is excellent and the individual performances are fine but the album has a cobbled together feel. Cash has a vast catalogue of material to draw from and there are a number of Christmas songs that would have fit together better and given the album a more cohesive feel.

Cash had a unique vocal approach and when applied to the right material; the results are excellent. Songs such as “Mary Christmas Mary,” “The Christmas Spirit,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” and “Christmas Time’s A-Comin,’” are like putty in his hands. On the other hand, “Jingle Bells” and “Blue Christmas” are a bit of a stretch.

The main problems are the “Opening Dialogue,” “The Ballad Of Hap Weaver,” and “(There’ll Be) Peace In The Valley” don’t really fit in with the Christmas theme.

The album is what it is and the individual performances should please any fan of the man in black, especially since they are a unique collectable because of the vinyl format. However, if you are a casual fan of the man in black, there are a number of classic Christmas albums out there.


Man In Black: Live In Denmark By Johnny Cash

September 19, 2016

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Johnny Cash is one of the corner stones of American country music. From his early days with the legendary Sun label until his death close to five decades later, he was a pillar of country music and a part of American culture.

He had a popular television show and his tours the last 30 years of his life reflected the format of that show. His concerts consisted of his solo songs interspersed among performances by his guests.

A number of Cash concerts have been released since his death. Man In Black: Live In Denmark was issued in 2006 as a DVD. Now it comes to CD for the first time.

It is a representative Johnny Cash concert, which makes it so enjoyable. There are no special bells and whistles; just a musician plying his craft.

Cash performs a number of his most recognizable hits including “A Boy Named Sue,” “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” “I Walk The Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “and “Man In Black,” which are all presented traditionally. Cash was a straight forward performer with little improvisation but if you want the hit versions of songs, then Cash is a performer for you.

Carl Perkins was the lead guitarist for Cash’s road bands for decades and always performed a few songs. Here it is his old Sun hits “Blue Suede Shows” and “Match Box.” His approach is perfunctionary but the songs are classics.

The Statler Brothers perform “Bed Of Roses” and “Flowers On The Wall,” Again, there is nothing spectacular but just a presentation of the familiar. Three duets with his wife June, including their hit “If I Were A Carpenter,” and then the whole Carter Family bring a personal touch to the concert. The concert ends with all the performers taking the stage. They have a gospel feel including an emotional traditional “Rock Of Ages.”

Man In Black” Live In Denmark 1971 is a performance frozen in time. It is one of thousands of typical performances by an extraordinary musician.


Live In Prague By Johnny Cash

July 27, 2015

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Praise be for National Record Day. It is the time of year when companies raid the vault and issue music the old way, on vinyl. That brings us to the man in black.

Johnny Cash travelled behind the iron curtain in 1978 to Prague, Czechoslovakia for a concert of good old fashioned country music. That performance has now been issued on 180 gram vinyl. There is no CD or DVD, just a record album. The nice touch is the red vinyl because the concert was behind the Soviet Iron Curtain.

1978 found Cash at the crossroads of his career.  His famous television show was in the rear view mirror and he had issued dozens of albums. He was about to graduate to revered country icon when he arrived in Prague. In tow was his backing band, The Tennessee Three, which consisted of five musicians; bassist Marshall Grant, drummer W. S. Holland, guitarist Bob Wooten, guitarist Jerry Hensley, and pianist Earl Ball.

For an artist who had hundreds of songs to draw from, Cash keeps it very basic for this concert, as it is mostly a performance of older and traditional material. Songs such as “Ring Of Fire,” “I Walk The Line,” “Wreck Of The Old ’97,” “Orange Blossom Special,” and “Wabash Cannonball” had been in his repertoire for years. It may have been his fans in Czechoslovakia had little access to his current material but other than “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” it is a concert that could have been performed a decade before. That fact gives the album charm as given the many recordings that have been issued since his death, this one is a unique look at his formative years and has a distinct retro feel.

His deep baritone voice is in fine form and the band is tight. His interaction with a very different audience is intimate and energetic. The sound is pristine and if you own a modern stereo system and turn table, it is an excellent listening experience.

Koncert V Praze (In Prague Live) is a fine addition to the Cash legacy. It is a solid glimpse into what his music was all about.


Pianography CD by Earl Poole Bell

November 11, 2013

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Many people have heard Earl Poole Ball play the piano without realizing it. He can be heard on albums by such artists as The Byrds, Linda Ronstadt, Rick Nelson, Buck Owens, Marty Robbins, Carl Perkins, Marty Stuart, Wanda Jackson, Merle Haggard, and Mickey Gilley. He toured and recorded with Johnny Cash from 1977 until Cash’s retirement in 1997.

Ball has now released Pianography, which is a somewhat dis-jointed album that presents different parts and facets of his career. There are seven new tracks, a couple of songs from 1967 and 1977, and four live tracks from a Johnny Cash tribute show in Austin, Texas.

He falls into the country rockabilly school of music. His sound is a little smoother than one would associate with that style of music. While he is an accomplished pianist and has played a brand of honky-tonk that is among the best in the business; on this release he many times takes a back seat to the guitars and rhythm section. When he does solo, it give a glimpse of just how good he is and makes one wish there was more of it.

The live tracks have a verve and vitality about them. There is a smooth rendition of Cash’s “Big River” and a sincere “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.” The two highlights are Roy Orbison tunes. He rocks through “Down The Line” and “Mean Woman Blues” and both are prime examples of who he is as an artist and musician.

The albums best and most effective track originated in 1977. “Flowers On Papa’s Grave” grew out of a visit with his aunt and uncle to their grand-father’s grave, (his great grand-father), in an old country cemetery when he was a teen-ager. A wonderful song and a memorable performance.

Earl Poole Ball has racked up a lot of miles during his career. Pianography may not be a perfect album but they are enough glimpses of his talent to make it worthwhile.


I Walk The Line byJohnny Cash

October 6, 2012

Johnny Cash was fresh out of the U.S. Air Force in 1954 when he signed a contract with the legendary Sun label. His initial release was probably his defining song and the first hit of a career that would lead to both The Country and The Rock And Roll Halls Of Fame.

“I Walk The Line” introduced his deep voice to the world. Released during the late summer of 1956, it peaked at number 17 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

It was one of those mid-1950s songs that was released as both a 45 and 78. It remains an instantly recognizable song over a half-century after its original release.


The Soul Of Truth: Bootleg IV Johnny Cash

March 14, 2012

Johnny Cash recorded a lot of material during the course of his career, both released and unreleased. The Johnny Cash Bootleg Series has been issuing rare tracks and previously unreleased material from different periods of his career. In celebration of what would have been his 80th birthday, the fourth in the series, The Soul Of Truth: Bootleg Vol. IV will be released early next month.

It is an ambitious two-CD, 51-track album that focuses on the gospel/religious side of his career. The material includes his entire 20-song, 1982 album, A Believer Sings The Truth, plus five unreleased outtakes from the album sessions, an entire 12-song previously unreleased album recorded during 1975, the entire out-of-print album, Johnny Cash – Gospel Singer recorded during 1982, plus four previously unreleased outtakes. In addition, there are duets and collaborations with the likes of (his late wife) June Carter Cash, Rosanne Cash, Cindy Cash, Anita Carter, Helen Carter, Rodney Crowell, and Jessi Colter.

Johnny Cash was who he was. He was a traditional country artist with a distinctive voice and style. If you are a fan of this type of music, then this new album should prove interesting and enjoyable. If you are a fan of “The Man In Black,” then this new release is essential.

I have always been more of a fan of his spiritual material than his straight country work. He was a man of faith and when he went in a gospel direction, he seemed to be more real and honest. He was able to provide a depth and sincerity to his interpretations that was sometimes less defined on some of his regular releases.

The most interesting group of songs is at the beginning of the second disc. Cash recorded an album of material that was never released and not even named, which has been stored in the vaults for over three decades. “Back In The Fold,” “Look Unto The East,” “Would You Recognize Jesus,” “Don’t Give Up On Me,” and a duet with June, “Far Side Banks Of Jordan” are all worthy additions to the Cash catalog of songs.

It is also nice to have his Johnny Cash – Gospel Singer material available again. The duet with Colter on “The Old Rugged Cross” is a pleasant combination of styles. “Another Wide River To Cross,” “God Ain’t No Stained Glass Window,” and “My Children Walk In Truth” all show his integrity and commitment to songs of faith.

The Soul Of Truth: Bootleg Vol. IV is not a place to begin exploring the Johnny Cash legacy. Rather, it fills in the missing spaces as it not only resurrects some of his long lost material, but also brings his faith front and center.

Article first published as Music Review: Johnny Cash – The Soul Of Truth: Bootleg Vol. IV on Blogcritics.


The Great Lost Performance by Johnny Cash

August 10, 2009

Johnny Cash’s career spanned nearly 50 years. He began on the Sun label with luminaries like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Jail, alcohol, a hit TV show, June Carter and a distinctive and wonderful bass voice all melded together to make Cash an icon of county and American music.

The Great Lost Performance, recorded July 28, 1990 at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, New Jersey, presents a mature and seemingly happy Johnny Cash. Physical ailments would dog Cash for the last decade of his life, but here we find him still in fine form. His voice is not as strong as 10 years before but he had developed a mellowness and a control that more than made up for it.

A number of songs that are presented live here rarely appeared in his concerts. These gems, combined with some of his well-known material, provide the listener with an excellent insight into the man in black’s musical legacy.

The first five songs on the album are what Johnny Cash is all about. The classic “Ring Of Fire” starts the concert off on a high note. Cash shows that his voice can still carry this tune 30-plus years after it was written. “Life’s Railway To Heaven’ and “A Wonderful Time Up There” feature a driving guitar boogie beat over a solid bass line. If only all gospel were like this.

“Folsom Prison Blues” follows and is presented as it was recorded a quarter of a century ago, while Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” shows why Cash was considered to be one of the better song interpreters of his generation. Here he takes a song that has been recorded hundreds of times and, with his unique vocal style, makes it his own.

There is a great biographical medley of songs later in the disc such as “Come Along and Ride This Train,” “Five Feet High and Rising,” “Pickin’ Time” and “A Beautiful Life.” Cash is one of the few artists that could pull this off. Other highlights include a great rendition of “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” a new original ballad entitled “What Is Man” and the rarely sung “Hey Porter,” the first song Cash ever wrote.

On the negative side, the two duets, “Jackson” and “The Wreck Of The Old ’97,” both with June Carter Cash, have been overdone. Likewise, the talking “Ragged Old Flag” brings the energy of the concert to a halt, while “Tennessee Flat Top Box” never really takes off.

Yet all in all, The Great Lost Performance is an excellent addition to the Johnny Cash legacy. It shows country music at its classic best and is a great introduction for newbies or a great reward for longtime fans.