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Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian Import

4.7 out of 5 stars 133 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Import, October 11, 1994
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With his highly personal early 1960s work, Johnny Cash had been trying the patience of the Columbia brass, who were less than thrilled with his commercial performance. When "Ring of Fire" topped the country charts in 1963, it allowed him to continue the many ambitious concept albums-history lessons close to his heart. The eight songs on 1964's Bitter Tears are sung from the point of view of the American Indian (still the accepted term in 1964), and together they form a potent work that is both deeply real and highly spiritual. With assistance from co-composer Peter LaFarge, Cash offers an earnest, solemn portrait of Native Americans that examines a variety of issues through a range of viewpoints and contained in unadorned musical settings. Cash actually took out full-page ads daring radio programmers to play "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," but all of the material hits home, from LaFarge's defiant "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow" to Johnny Horton's mournful, spooky "The Vanishing Race." --Marc Greilsamer

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. As Long As The Grass Shall Grow
  2. Apache Tears
  3. Custer
  4. The Talking Leaves
  5. The Ballad Of Ira Hayes
  6. Drums
  7. White Girl
  8. The Vanishing Race


Product Details

  • Audio CD (October 11, 1994)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Import
  • Label: Sony Import
  • ASIN: B000002AU0
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (133 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,586 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By ewomack TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 22, 2004
Format: Audio CD
Johnny Cash had Cherokee blood in him. That fact, along with a strong sense of justice, provides rocket fuel for the passion that pervades "Bitter Tears". At his 1969 Madison Square Garden concert, Cash said "...the ballad of the American Indian is a sad song..." The mood of this entire CD fits that statement. The musical arrangements lean toward the stark and minimal, providing an apt backdrop to the bitter, defeated, and sometimes defiant lyrics.

Most of the songs on "Bitter Tears" come from the songbook of a Pima-Indian, Peter LaFarge. LaFarge served in the Korean War, worked with Cisco Houston, made numerous recordings for Folkways and Columbia, and died in 1964 (of either suicide or stroke). That same year Columbia released "Bitter Tears". This CD now stands as an unplanned tribute to LaFarge (the original liner notes refer to LaFarge in the present tense, so hopefully he lived to hear Cash's interpretations of his songs).

Johnny Cash wrote "Apache Tears" and "The Talking Leaves". LaFarge wrote the remaining songs except J.Horton's "The Vanishing Race". The CD contains nothing but outstanding songs, many of which refer to real historic people or events.

"As Long as The Grass Shall Grow" sums up the history of broken treaties. After the American Revolution, the United States found itself very weak. To placate the American Indians (many of who fought on the side of the British), the US government offered numerous peace treaties promising land "as long as the grass shall grow and the waters flow". US Courts later interpreted such phrases as pure metaphor, and denied claims to land that the treaties promised.
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Format: Audio CD
This is an outstanding, politically concious "concept album". Johnny Cash had great empathy for the downtrodden, and who has been more downtrodden than the American Natives? Nobody. So, this is a very heartfelt album. Here is what Cash wrote about this album is his autobiography: "Bitter Tears, in which I was inspired by the Native American songwriter Peter LeFarge, was an intense research project. I dove into primary and secondary sources, immersing myself in the tragic stories of the Cherokee and the Apache, among others, until I was almost as raw as Peter. By the time I actually recorded the album I carried a heavy load of sadness and outrage; I felt every word of these songs, particularly "Apache Tears" and "The Ballad of Ira Hayes". I meant every word, too. I was long past the point of pulling my punches."
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Format: Audio CD
Johnny Cash is one of those performers who can sing anything and make it work. Recent albums containing covers ranging from Hank Snow to Soundgarden bear witness to this. But there are several albums in his catalog that are even more exceptional than the average Cash collection. Bitter Tears is one of these exceptional experiences. 8 classic cuts about the history, the trials and the pride of the American Indian. Rarely has an artist recorded more emotionally moving material. There are several great Johnny Cash best-of's out there, but this is an essential CD to own in addition to the greatest hits collections. Especially noteworthy are Cash's performances of songs by the late Native American singer-songwriter Peter LaFarge, who composed 5 of the 8 tracks on this disc. After listening to this, I would recommend purchasing LaFarge's discs, currently available from the Bear Family label in Germany.
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Format: Audio CD
I have been listening to this album since I was a small boy at my grandfathers house in north western Pa. Very near the relocated Iriquoi nation. Being of that nation myself the first track ( As Long as the Grass Shall Grow ) has always been very emotional to me. This album has been an overlooked gem by Johnny Cash ever since its relese. Regardless of how one feels about any non pc lyrics, the truth will always be the truth. No album before or since captures the plight of the American Indian better.
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By A Customer on August 5, 2003
Format: Audio CD
This is the album that pretty much brought Cash to the forefront and accepted with open arms in the more liberal folk community during the early 1960s. After introducing "Ira Hayes" live at Newport in July '64 and then on ABC-TVs Les Crane Show, Cash moved into this concept album full steam with a genuine intensity, thus angering the more conservative Nashville community and C&W DJs. Cash & Columbia shot back by taking out a full page ad in Billboard challenging & blasting his critics for refusing to play "Ira Hayes." A music critic from NY Times, cited "Bitter Tears" as being one of the first truly important folk albums that could be classified as "protest music" and Cash, himself, has always regarded this to be among his crowning achievements of his legendary career. No country artist would have the talent or integrity to even consider recording or releasing anything like this today! But Cash was NEVER simply just a C&W artist! Listen to this lp to be taught - not entertained. For this album is not only worth listening to, but worth remembering even 40 years later!
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