various artists,
Dressed in Black:
A Tribute to Johnny Cash

(Dualtone, 2002)

I must admit that I approached this CD with misgivings. It is a tribute to Johnny Cash and features tracks made famous by the Man in Black. But Cash is so unique, I couldn't visualize anyone else doing justice to songs he made his own. Wow, was I mistaken!

Hank 111 blew my mind with his version of "Wreck of Old '97." Not only did he take the song, he put a diesel engine on the old steam engine and he zoomed through the state. I cannot say it was better than Johnny, but it is every bit as good. "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" is one of those early country songs that is almost folk in its construction. Rodney Crowell provides a fabulous version even down to the false finish that will catch unwary deejays.

I particularly enjoyed Raul Malo singing "I Guess Things Happen That Way" in a lovely laidback style that we all mistakenly think we can do. The guitar solo is fabulous with that very 1950s whistling in the background. Here in the 21st century, he transported me back to Cash's early days without an effort. I thought Cash was singing when the Rev. Horton Heat started "Get Rhythm." This is as close as I have heard to a young Man in Black, and I mean that as a major compliment to the singer.

It is only when we get tribute albums that we realise the extent of influence a singer like Johnny Cash has and the number of hits that he either wrote or recorded. "Ring of Fire" was the first that I recall hearing. On this CD, Billy Burnette provides his own interpretation. "Luther Played the Boogie" is a gem of a song, simple, driving and a joy to hear its story.

Rosie Flores sang in a punk band that played "Big River" at full volume. Here she sings it as a tribute showing the range of audience good music will reach. "I Still Miss Someone" surfaced in Ireland sung by an excellent young Johnny McEvoy back in the 1960s at the opening of our folk boom. This version by Earl Podle Ball is almost as good, but maybe nostalgia is tinting my view. The old "chunk a chunk" sound is retained for Dale Watson's take on "I Walk the Line" to great effect.

At 18 tracks this CD brings you great value most of the good songs are here. The words are not included but the short notes by the singers ring with a sincere sentiment for a man deserving of a tribute.

This is a great CD from many names that are new to me. Even if you have the originals by Johnny Cash, give this a listen. Some tracks are similar to the Man in Black's renditions, but others add a new dimension as the great songs evolve.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 14 December 2002

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