The Man in Black is too cool for just country. In his fifty-year career, Johnny Cash has cultivated the aura of a rock star, his baritone and black duds oozing with style and breaking the Gene Autry "singing cowboy" mold. He's even cool enough to cover Nine Inch Nails. But all that style can obscure the substance behind it -- Johnny's Blues brings Cash's songs to the fore, where they'll blow you away with their depth.
Blues brings together a variety of blues artists who take to Cash's songs as if they were their own, proving that the only real difference between blues and country is the accent. The stellar lineup includes Alvin Youngblood Hart's plaintive reading of "Sunday Morning Comin' Down," which highlights Cash's humor: "The beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad, so I had one more for dessert." Corey Harris produces a worldly vibe on "Redemption" with African djembe drums. And Chris Thomas King brings a raw storyteller quality to the tale of "Rock Island Blues."
Not all the experiments are successful. Cash may have wanted to play gospel in his early days, but Mavis Staples' contemporary Christian version of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" may not be what he had in mind. But a couple of unknowns redeem --and steal -- Johnny's Blues. Paul Reddick's red-hot harmonica lights a fire under "Train of Love" and makes it a barroom brawler, while Blackie and the Rodeo Kings' distorted take on Cash's classic "Folsom Prison Blues" hints at the Doors with the volume turned way up. If you weren't a Johnny Cash fan before you listen to this disc, you will be after, and you'll find some new blues talents to follow, too.
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