Various Artists 

We Walk The Line: A Celebration of the Music of Johnny Cash

This year would have marked the late country icon Johnny Cash's eightieth birthday, so many of his friends, acolytes, and fans commemorated the singer at Austin's Moody Theater in April. They repurposed the entire concert on a new CD, appropriately named for one of Cash' greatest hits. What separates this collection from myriad other "tribute" collections is that most of these performances feature the same core band (with Don Was as director), so this Line has more of a consistency and focus than many such projects.

Not generally known for his vocal abilities, Kris Kristofferson bellows and drawls his way through a rollicking take on "Big River." The Carolina Chocolate Drops do a fine, frenzied bluegrass version of "Jackson," and Shelby Lynne wraps her smoky, husky pipes around "Why Me Lord," taking it to a place between Saturday night revelry and Sunday morning devotion. Iron & Wine perform "Long Black Veil" less as a country song and more as a gothic lament. Amy Lee's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" aches like a fresh breakup.

Not everything is golden. On a new version of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" — which Cash covered in 2002, shortly before his death — Lucinda Williams sounds as if she's been smoking three packs a day. While Train's Pat Monahan has genuinely nice vocal quality, his smoothly accomplished version of "Help Me Make It Through the Night" would sound more at home on a Broadway or Vegas stage. Sheryl Crow sings (painfully) beyond her range on "Cry, Cry, Cry." On the whole though, if you're a fan of Cash and/or rough-and-tumble country music, this is the Line to walk. (Legacy)


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