Wednesday, August 16, 2006
As a youngster I liked a number of things: girls, books, music, drugs, beer and gigs. Often my friends and I would find ourselves at a loose end Sunday night and so it became a habit for us to congregate in a pub, the name of which escapes me, opposite Ilford police station. The good thing about this pub was that it was one of the rare local drinking holes to host live music on Sunday and it was free, though we had to pay for the beer! At the beginning there was something that didn't please me that much, the landlord had a strong preference for country music and I didn't, little by little I managed to shake off the Dolly Parton image of country that I had thanks to my parents and ended up passing many a rockin' Sunday evening often with bands that had more in common with Steve Earle than Jim Reeves. The result is that I'm quite partial to a bit of country be it traditional or modern.
Johnny Cash has long been a favorite, and it gave me much pleasure when he made his comeback under the wings of Rick Rubin on American. One of the things that stood out from this series of recordings was his choice of cover versions, often songs and styles that one would not associate with him and that he managed to make his own. Cash's songs had already been favorites for other artists to cover for many years. The late 1980's saw the release of an exceptionally good compilation of specially recorded Cash covers on the Leeds based Red Rhino called 'Till Things Are Brighter', a title which could well be an allusion to the state of his career at the time. The project was led by the Mekons, who also provided the musical backing, with the goal of raising money for AIDS charities and featured some of the days top indie/alternative artists, infact people rather like myself that you would not expect to be country fans. The album sleeve notes said of Cash that he "was the only Country and Western star to make a stand against the Vietnam war". He was also the only person that author knew that had been arrested for flower picking! All in all sounds like a great man and one hell of a rebel, I've always liked the finger photo taken at one of his prison gigs.
I had a hard time choosing the titles to post from the album and have chosen three tracks, the great man's theme tune 'Man In Black' reverently interpreted by the then solo Marc Almond who was ofcourse better known for singing seedy songs about bedsit life, night clubbing and sex. Another surprise appearance on the album was of Tracey and Melissa the sisters and the vocal chords behind Voice of the Beehive who revisited 'Five Feet High And Risin'. My own personal favorite is from maybe the least likely of singers Mary Mary who some of you might remember as having been the singer from Gaye Bikers On Acid (I know, some bands have better names than they do music) who delivers a suitably manic reading of 'Boy Named Sue'. A very solid tribute album that I seem to remember won over the critics at the time. Often these projects fall flat on there faces with maybe one or two good covers and a load of substandard rubbish, maybe what makes this one succeed is the fact that the music is played by the same people for all of the songs and that they display an obvious understanding of Cash and his music. Needlessly to say this has long been out of print and the going rate would appear to be around the 25 euros mark, good hunting as it makes for a good companion to the original recordings.