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An Epitaph of Tremendous Importance...,
This review is from: Unearthed (Audio CD)
I cannot give enough praise to the performances on this collection of (mostly) unreleased material. Cash is astounding. I found many of these songs to be more diverse and impressive than much of what was found on the last two American Recordings releases. I can think of no more fitting farewell from (and for) the Man In Black than this. How much of it didn't end up on an album is beyond my comprehension.
There are quite a few legendary Cash gems given new life and intensity in this set. Among them is the classic mourner "Long Black Veil," the endearing "Flesh And Blood," and twin mining/coal town songs of "Dark As Dungeon" and "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore." There are others and, honestly, each one is as good (if not more straight-forward and hard-hitting) as the originals.
While I felt that American Recordings IV: When The Man Comes Around contained too many covers of uber-popular songs ("In My Life," "Desperado," etc.), here we find a few numbers from songwriters like Kris Kristofferson ("Just The Other Side Of Nowhere" and "Casey's Last Ride"), Neil Young ("Pocahontas" and "Heart of Gold"), Jimmie Rodgers ("'T' For Texas" and "Waiting For a Train")...and the list goes on and on. Again, I'm left wondering why hadn't some of these made the cut before?
Why "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" was chosen over the charming "Cindy" (both with gloom-crooner Nick Cave) for American IV I'll never know. While I love Hank Williams, Sr. this traditional track is simply perfect. The same for the Fiona Apple duet of Cat Steven's "Father And Son." A vast improvement over "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" where Miss Apple's voice seems to interfere more than harmonize. But hands down the best duets are with veteran rockabilly king, Carl Perkins ("Brown-Eyed Handsome Man"), and the late Joe Strummer of The Clash ("Redemption Song").
While I love many of Cash's own Christian inspired songs I found that many of the traditional hymns lacked, pardon the expression, spirit. They were faithful renderings, but seemed to lack the interpretation that Cash usually lends to any song. Or perhaps it was just my impression. Regardless, I won't say that these songs aren't good...they certainly are...they just don't all quite match the glory of the rest of the set.
The Best of the Rest:
I still cannot grasp any reason why Unearthed included a "Best of..." disc, except for the sole purpose of upping the price of this boxed set. I would have to guess that most of the folks willing to shell out $65.00 for a Cash boxed set are probably going to have most, if not all, of the American Recordings albums previously released. But this doesn't bother me so much in the long run. They could have charged the same price for four discs if they'd wanted...I'd still have took the bait.
I've heard many folks bemoan the agreeably fragile packaging. I've seen folks complain oblivious to the fact that the upside down flag is the long-standing emblem of American Records and can be found on all the albums on their label. I can only offer one suggestion to those who worry about the cardboard sheaths damaging the cds. If you have a CD recorder...make copies. Use those copies and leave the packaging on a shelf somewhere as something to take down and thumb through from time to time. It's supposedly a Limited Edition...treat it like one and it'll last.
Last but not least we have the personal reflections of Cash, producer Rick Rubin, and various other friends, family members, and bandmates that contributed to the creation of this collection. I found myself wishing that we had such intimate accounts of all the songs on the original American Recordings...and thankful that we could be given such insight into such a fruitful and inspiring time in Johnny Cash's career. For those who hadn't gotten a sense of the man from his music...they certainly couldn't miss what a genuine, thoughtful, intriguing, and inspirational individual Cash was...and always will be. Thanks to American Recordings and Rick Rubin for allowing a legend to make a magnificent final stand.
The Final Tally:
Liner Notes: *****
PS: The live, orchestral version of Leonard Cohen's "Bird On A Wire" is simply one of the finest pieces of music I've ever heard. If there were more songs from this live performance I'd certainly be willing to pay to hear it. It's glorious. Enjoy.
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Initial post: Mar 3, 2010 11:17:51 PM PST
Thanks for the fine review. Cash went out strong and left us a timeless legacy.
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