The Man Is Back: A Tribute To Johnny Cash - Various Artists (Beast Records)
There’s a news story that’s been doing the rounds of mainstream media about a man with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder who was given a brain implant that turned him into a Johnny Cash fan.
If you want to delve further, the journal “Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience” (yeah, I read every issue) describes the case of “Mr B”, a 58-year-old Dutch man who had suffered severe OCD from the age of 13. The insertion of a brain pacemaker apparently turned him into a follower of The Man In Black.
“Mr B started to listen to more songs of Johnny Cash and noticed that he was deeply moved by the raw and low-pitched voice of the singer,” researchers wrote. It sounds like Mr B might need to track down this collection on French label Beast Records. My money is on him being a completist.
If you don’t worship at The Shrine Of J. Cash you have to admit he had some great songs, even if the catalogue has been milked to the nth degree since his passing. Rick Rubin brought him back into the spotlight and no amount of cajoling will convince the record company to allow poor old Johnny to rest in peace. The movie just made it worse.
This Australian-dominated tribute earns extra points for not just going for the obvious songs. The pick of this 16-song litter, however, is “Ring Of Fire”, the best-known tune in the Cash back catalogue. It’s by Miss Mary Mack, a French band who tackle it like the “Loaded” era Velvets.
Some artist names will be familiar to Aussies. Germany’s Tex Napalm (who calls Melbourne his second home) tackles “Singer Of Songs” with a terrific down-home vocal and dark accompaniment. Aussie expat in Italy, Pete Ross, delivers a fractious and brooding “Give My Love To Rose”. Mr Everywhere (aka Hipbone Slim) and his UK combo The Kneetremblers add some earnest garage dust to “Mean Eyed Cat.”
There’s no clue to the lineage of the band Spencer P. Jones is using on “I Walk The Line” but his version of “I Walk The Line” is understatedly magnificent. Spencer croaks while the song totters along like a blasted patron emerging from an all-night bar and being smashed in the face by daylight. Back Pony Express continue in the same vein on “Dark As A Dungeon.” Special mention too for Stu Thomas’ deconstructed “Folsom Prison Blues”, the lesson therein being that you can, and should, fuck with the original to make an album like this worthwhile.
Brisbane’s Texas Tea are renowned for mining the alt-country turf so their spirited “I Got A Woman” won’t surprise fans. The Double Agents’ “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town” sound like they’re playing it for laughs. The Spoils are a Melbourne band I haven’t come across before and their take on “The Folk Singer” rings true enough with more than a dash of Neil Young (circa “After The Gold Rush”) in the telling of the tale.
In a world where attempts are made to wake the dead far too often, this tribute would give The Man In Black good reason to interrupt his slumber. Highly commended -especially if you have a hankering for late night music with character, or that stuff called alt-country.